One in Four Homeowners Holds an Empty Piggy Bank

Fueling increased anxiety over potential job loss, one in four — or 24% of — homeowners don’t have any money in savings to cover living expenses should they lose their income, according to a Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) quarterly survey. The number of respondents indicating job loss as their top concern increased from 21% in fourth-quarter 2008 to 29% in the first quarter of 2009. Respondents also expressed a stronger desire to increase savings while reducing debt — and to do so quickly. Amid the tightening economy, only 23% of survey participants actually managed to increase savings this quarter, but 37% say they paid down some debt, while 12% claim their debt was completely paid off in the past year. Feeling the pinch, people continue to make lifestyle changes — in some cases drastic ones — in order to reduce expenses. Since last year, the survey found an astonishing one-third of homeowners now have family or friends living with them. 42% of homeowners are spending less on their children and 39% are budgeting more, while 41% are buying only necessities. Adding to widespread angst, job losses continue to climb. Initial jobless claims rose last week by 32,000 to 637,000, according to the US Labor Department, and the total number of people collecting unemployment insurance surged to a record 6.56m. When asked what would boost their confidence in the economy, one in four participants say an improvement in their personal situation is the top indicator. Meanwhile, homeowners are waiting for the economy to improve to make a major purchase: 30% say the first purchase they will make will be home improvement, 18% will buy an automobile while 13% say they will take a vacation. Reports yesterday show signs that consumers are already investing in minor home improvement projects, as giant home improvement retailer Lowe‘s (LOW) reported better than expected earnings. Write to Kelly Curran.

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