Consumer confidence grew again in February, fueled by a more optimistic outlook for the economy and personal finances, according to the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor, a daily poll tracking economic sentiment and spending plans of nearly 8,200 consumers throughout the month.

The Monitor jumped 4.4 points form the previous month to 94.9. It's the highest level since October 2007. Highlights of the report include:

Personal Finance Confidence Reaches Pre-Recession Levels

Consumer sentiment about personal finances continued to improve in February.

    •    More than 36% now rate their finances as either excellent or good, which is the highest figure in more than a year and a jump of 2 points from the month earlier.
    •    Nearly one-quarter, or 24%, of consumers believe their personal finances are getting better. Forty-three percent view their finances as getting worse, which is 4 percentage points lower than last month and the lowest level since October 2007.
    •    There were fewer consumers with higher incomes (above $75,000 annually) and lower incomes (below $40,000 annually) viewing their personal finances as worse compared to last month. These figures declined by 6 percentage points to 29% and 3 percentage points to 55%, respectively. The portion of middle-class income consumers who view their personal finances as getting worse remained unchanged at 42% from January 2012.
    •    Nearly 50% of consumers reported they had money in their pockets after paying bills last month, the highest level since March 2009.
 
Economic Expectations Growing, Particularly Among Men

    •    Expectations for the U.S. economy are improving. For the first time since January 2011, nearly one-third of consumers, or 32%, believe the economy is getting better. This is 2 percentage points higher than the prior month.
    •    While more than half, or 52%, of consumers rate the U.S. economy as poor, this is the lowest level since January 2011. Only 12% of respondents view the economy as excellent or good, an increase of 1 percentage point over last month and 3 percentage points compared to February 2011.
    •    More than 35% of men view the economy as getting better, an increase of nearly 5 percentage points over January 2012. However, only 29% of women share the expectation that the economy is getting better, and this level did not change from last month.

Consumers Remain Cautious About Spending Intentions

Consumers’ growing confidence in the economy and their personal finances is not substantially boosting purchasing intentions. While 28% say they plan to spend more next month, a 4-point increase from the month before, the most significant increase came from a spike in household expenses, such as gasoline and groceries.

    •    Spending next month on household expenses, including gasoline, is most likely to increase. More than 44% of consumers expect to spend more, an increase of 7 percentage points compared to the prior month. Gas prices are near the record high of $4.11 set in July of 2008, when more than 57% of consumers expected spending on household expenses to increase in the next month.
    •    Historically, the Monitor experiences an uptick in home improvement spending in the Spring. In February 2012, 14% indicated they plan to spend more, a 2-point increase and the highest level for the month of February since 2008.
    •    Nearly 10% of consumers expect to spend more on discretionary purchases like going out to dinner or the movies, a slight increase of 2 percentage points compared to the prior month.
    •    Despite the coming of Spring break for many consumers, expectations for spending on major personal purchases, like vacations, in the next month remained unchanged from the prior month at 12%.

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