Most Americans Are Confident About the Economy

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With both unemployment and the stock market at, or near, record highs most Americans have reason to be confident. It's easier to find a job in many markets, and even low-level workers are seeing wage increases as giant retailers including Wal-Mart and Target will pay all hourly employees at least $11 an hour.

That wave of good news has led to the majority of Americans having a positive outlook for 2018, according to a new online survey conducted by LendingTree. The data showed that 67% of those surveyed expect their personal finances to improve in 2018.

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What does the survey show?

Americans are clearly getting swept up in a sense of economic optimism. Almost one-third of those surveyed (32%) said they expect their finances to get "much better" in 2018 while 35% expected them to get "somewhat better."

Nearly a quarter of the survey participants (24%) saw their finances staying the same while 6% said they expected them to get "somewhat worse." Only 2% said they expected the new year to bring them finances that were "much worse."

Millennials, which LendingTree defines as those 35 and under, were the most optimistic. Nearly 80% of people in that age group expected their finances to improve this year. People over 50 were less cheery with only 55% saying they saw financial improvement ahead.

People want less debt

In addition to asking people how they felt about their finances in 2018, the survey also asked participants what they would do with an unexpected $10,000 windfall. "Pay down debt" was the top answer at 36% beating out "invest the money" at 14%, "spend the money on family" at 13%, and "use the funds for home improvement" at 10%.

In addition, 31% of those taking the survey said that they were confident they would be able to pay down debt in 2018 (even without an unexpected $10,000). Another 27% feels confident they will be able to reign in unnecessary spending and 19% expect to get a raise this year.

"Most people chose the financial concerns they have the most control over (like controlling spending and paying down debt) than more economic matters that were largely out of their control (like home prices and financial market performances)," explained LendingTree's Megan Greuling.

Concerns remain

Just because the overall outlook was good for the majority of those surveyed does not mean that no concerns were raised.

"Americans feel most uneasy about unexpected expenses (43%), followed by their ability to make ends meet (34%), which may be why 27% are hoping to build an emergency fund and 26% are hoping to put more into savings in 2018," wrote Greuling. Healthcare costs were also a concern being cited by 29% of the overall audience and 40% of those over 50.

And, the fact that paying off debt scored so well suggests that economic optimism only goes so far. Most Americans see a brighter tomorrow, but they're not sure how long the good times will last. Because of that, along with the optimism comes a dash of pragmatism and planning for a rainy day (that hopefully never comes).

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Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.