Study: Affluent Americans feel cautiously optimistic

Affluent Americans have realized thateconomic uncertainty is the new normal. But they are feeling morehopeful as they take greater control of their financial lives.

Although more than half of wealthy Americans, 54%, are still worried about being able to meet their financial goals, 94% of them think that they are better prepared to cope with the kind of economic volatility they have endured for several years, according to the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Survey released today.

"Theeconomic scenario has played out over the past several years, and morethan half of affluent people believe it is what life will be like goingforward," says John Thiel, head of U.S. Wealth Management and PrivateBanking and Investment Group for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management."People are adapting -- just as we as a country have done throughout ourhistory."

In the new reality, even affluentfamilies -- which Merrill Lynch defined as having $250,000 or more ininvestable assets -- realize that they cannot buy now and pay later.Instead, they are doing a better job at sticking to a budget, livingmore within their means and setting tangible goals, Thiel says.

WealthyAmericans have a greater sense of security, and many of them arefeeling cautiously optimistic about their financial situation in 2013,the survey says. Among the reasons:

* 45% can take advantage of investment opportunities

* 32% will have less debt or have lowered their debt

* 26% expect career advancement

Afteryears of worrying about the market's volatility, affluent Americans aremore willing to accept investment risk. This year, only 30% of themconsider themselves conservative investors, down from 50% in 2010,according to the Merrill Lynch survey.

AffluentAmericans are more comfortable about investing in the stock marketbecause wealth suggests investment experience, says a report by Hearts& Wallets, a retirement and savings research firm. And this year,investors with more than $100,000 in assets say that their anxiety hasdropped dramatically and they are more likely to be risk-takers, H&Wsays.

In comparison, middle-class familiescontinue to be more risk-averse because they live closer to thefinancial edge, says the Consumer Federation of America. Only 21% ofmiddle-class Americans are willing to invest their retirement savings instocks, bonds and/or mutual funds, vs. 48% of higher-income people,according to a recent study by CFA and Primerica.

Notjust low-income Americans are worried about health care cost. Thisyear, 77% of affluent Americans are highly concerned about rising healthcare costs -- and 44% consider it the No. 1 threat to reaching theirfinancial goals.

But while they aresurrounded by problems that they cannot solve, they are trying tocontrol what they can. "There are real things that could make someonefeel better, such as refinancing your mortgage," Thiel says. "If yoursavings are beginning to grow again, that is where the optimism beginsto come."


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