Bankrate, an independent financial analysis company, has gathered data for its Financial Security Index since December 2010. In broad terms, every month the company asks Americans how they feel about job security, savings, debt, net worth and overall financial situation compared to last year. February's results showed the fourth consecutive month of improvement in the overall index score.

The survey found a 2 percent increase in the number of respondents with more money in savings than in credit card debt. On the down side, 16 percent said they have no credit card debt, but no emergency savings, either. According to one of the analysts, this group is "only one unplanned expense away" from racking up some high-cost debt.

An Index score of 100 shows that things are about the same. Anything lower means that things are worse than a year ago, and anything higher means that the respondent feels more secure. February's overall index came in at 97.3, with no change from January but a marked improvement from the 92.3 Index in August 2011.

For individual categories, the results also show improvement. Twenty percent of respondents felt more secure in their jobs than they had last year at this time. With savings, the improvement is a little harder to describe. While it doesn't show that people are more secure, it does show that fewer people are less comfortable -- the double negative boils down to more respondents saying they felt about the same as last year.

There wasn't much difference between January and February in debt and net worth. Those categories also showed most respondents feeling neutral compared to last year.

This month, then, the Index hints at a cautious optimism in American households. Things may not be getting better, but they aren't getting a lot worse, either.

Source:, "Americans' values on savings versus debt," Feb. 21, 2012