Consumers felt more stress financially during the first quarter of 2009 than they did during the same period last year, according to recent results of research based on consumers who called a financial helpline. Calls related to debt represented 44% of total calls received, up from 38% during the first quarter of 2008, according to Financial Finesse Inc., a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based provider of financial counseling to employees of corporations, municipalities and credit unions. The helpline also assists with investing, real estate and retirement planning. Of those debt-related calls, 15% pertained to foreclosure, up from 5% a year ago. Consumers are narrowing their focus to managing their day-to-day finances instead of more long-term planning, according to the survey results. Nearly 65% of all calls during the first quarter focused on debt and money management compared with 58% that were in 2008 and 43% in 2007. Furthermore, the nature of the calls is more serious, and callers are considering more-drastic steps such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, dramatically downsizing their lifestyles and taking on second jobs to make ends meet. Research indicates that consumers are tapping their retirement-planning assets by taking loans and hardship withdrawals from their plans to meet short-term financial needs.

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