01/23/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

What Would Make You Feel Financially Secure?

For Women & Co. by Mercedes Cardona,

Recently, I asked members of Citi's LinkedIn group, Connect: Professional Women's Network, a pretty tough question: What would make you feel financially secure?

The answers dovetailed with parts of Citi's recent survey, Having It All in 2012. The survey found women of all ages worry about how to stay out of debt today and save for tomorrow.

While many comments on LinkedIn said there is no way to feel 100% secure, three spots stand out:

• A clean balance sheet.
Whether it's from credit cards or student loans (or both), debts keep us up at night. Student loan debt was the number one money worry for women under age 35 and ranked fifth for women age 35 and older in the Citi survey.

Many LinkedIn members said debt keeps them from taking chances in their careers, such as switching jobs or starting a business.

"I'm very confident in my ability to obtain a new job, but I would like to have the freedom to pick the best one and not the first one," said Amber Davis, who is VP of operations with a transportation company in the Denver area.

Student loan debt topped $1 trillion this year, and it's not just youngsters carrying that load: Even one fifth of people over age 55 still have some student debt, according to a survey.

The ultimate in security would be to make enough money to pay off student debt and have enough to save toward buying a house, said Davis: "It would just be nice to have a place I know is mine, and that what I pay each month is actually going towards something more than the here and now."

• A steady income.
Whether it's a good paycheck, cash from investments or even the lottery, the women in Citi's LinkedIn group want to know that they have the cash flow to do better than simply cover their bills every month.

"Living paycheck to paycheck doesn't make anyone feel financially secure," said Stacey Bush, a freelance writer and editor in the Minneapolis area.

That's not idle chatter. A survey earlier this year found two-thirds of Americans do just that.

Women need to pay particular attention to their incomes, said many of the commenters on LinkedIn.

"I want to earn the same dollar for every dollar a man earns -- not 75 cents. That will make me feel financially secure," said Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the visitor's bureau in Washington County, Ohio.

But as many commenters noted, financial security depends on job security, and that means keeping skills fresh. If you invest in personal development, you may always have some student loan debt, noted Kristy Foster, a community outreach specialist with the public health district in Northeast Texas. The key is making payments, even if you have a break for being an active student, she wrote. That way, you can avoid some piling of fees and interest.

• A way ahead.
Even among those who feel OK now, planning for the future is a worry. Most of the LinkedIn commenters said having enough to retire is a major concern, and it was the top worry mentioned by women over age 35 in the Citi survey.

"That means setting manageable and reasonable goals that are appropriate for today and mindful of tomorrow," said Knowlton, who is counting down 20 years and 10 months left to retirement.

Besides paying off debts and having savings for 18 months of living expenses, financial security includes being able to max out the retirement savings contribution every year to a 401(k) or IRA, said Michele Pfannenstiel. "And if I wanted to feel RICH, having enough money to give to my alma mater," she said.

Pfannenstiel, a veterinarian, is such a believer in retirement saving, she opened her first retirement account with her first paycheck out of college. But unlike her, half of us aren't putting money into any kind of retirement plan, a recent survey found.

Are these your concerns too? You're not alone. Join the discussion on LinkedIn to see what others are saying.

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