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Americans take a certain pleasure in horror at Halloween, going to great lengths to turn themselves into zombies, vampires, and other ghoulish creatures. But in the realm of finance, the horror is too often real.

A new survey finds that roughly eight out of 10 Americans have struggled with past financial scares, such as emergencies that left them short on cash. Additionally, nearly nine of 10 carry financial fears about the future, with the frightful challenge of saving enough for retirement ranking as their No. 1 fear.

Nightmare on your street
The survey found that most Americans are haunted by both past financial scares and fears for the future. Here are some of the gory details:

  1. Most people can point to a specific financial scare they have experienced. Nearly 79% of those surveyed could identify a specific incident as their biggest financial scare to date. So, if you can recall a chilling financial scare, you are not alone.
  2. The unexpected really frightens people. In horror movies, the things that seem to come out of nowhere really make people jump. It's the same way with finances. The most common financial scare people cited was not having enough money for an emergency. The thing is, if you have seen enough horror movies, you learn to expect the unexpected. You should do the same with your finances by keeping enough in your savings account to weather unexpected financial crises.
  3. Borrowing money is scary. While watching a creepy movie, how many times have you wondered why the victims went into that scary house or foggy graveyard in the first place? It seems these characters often put themselves in a position to be terrorized -- and the same often happens with people's finances. Between large credit card balances and bills they could not afford to pay, 31% of those surveyed said they had been scared by some form of debt. If you're not careful, racking up debt can be like checking into the Bates Motel.
  4. One in 10 people frighten themselves. More than 10% of respondents have had a financial scare resulting from a forgotten or misplaced bill. If your own carelessness scares you, look into automated bill-paying.
  5. Investments have not been that scary lately. Perhaps surprisingly, less than 7% of respondents said they had been frightened by a failing investment. Then again, stocks are more than five years into a bull market -- long enough to lull people into a false sense of security.
  6. Bounced checks are three times more likely to haunt men than women. It's not a chronic problem for either sex, but about three times as many men said bouncing a check has been their biggest financial scare.
  7. What people fear most is the future. Turning from past scares to present fears, what people worry about the most are not immediate concerns like paying debts or handling an emergency, but rather future needs like retirement, children's education, and leaving an inheritance. Forty-nine percent cited those distant future issues as their biggest financial fear, while 38% were more troubled by immediate concerns. Overall, 87% of respondents said they have at least one financial worry regarding the future.
  8. People are more afraid for themselves than for the next generation. While the future is what people worry about the most, it is typically their own future, not the next generation's. Nearly 36% are worried about being able to retire comfortably, while only 13% are concerned about funding college or leaving an inheritance.
  9. Men are more likely than women to have experienced a financial scare. In both cases, the vast majority of respondents could point to a specific financial scare, but the percentage was even higher for men than for women.
  10. Emergencies seem to rattle women more than men. Women are more likely to say that not having enough money for an emergency has been their biggest financial scare in the past and to identify it as their biggest current financial fear.

Confronting financial fears
So what scares you most about your finances? Is it the memory of a past experience or a fear of the unknown that keeps you awake at night?

If you want to put your financial fears to bed, here's a tip: Don't shy away from them. Shine a light on those dark places by staying on top of your financial obligations, and confront the demons by doing something about them. Handling money will always be a little scary, but careful planning can tone it down to a mild suspense story, rather than a terrifying slasher flick.

This survey was conducted for by Op4G in June 2014. It surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults age 25 or older.

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