A large number of Americans are woefully under preparing when it comes to financial planning for their futures, according to a new survey by Northwestern Mutual.

Some 38% of those surveyed called themselves 'informal' planners, meaning they have a general sense of their goals but no plan in place to meet them. An additional 7% say they have no specific goals or plans in place at all.

"This research reflects that most Americans see the value in setting financial goals, but a large number don't know how they'll get there," says Greg Oberland, Northwestern Mutual executive vice president. "Developing a plan to reach your goals is just as important as having a goal in the first place, whether it pertains to your health, your career or your financial security."

The study, Planning and Progress, revealed 36% of people believe a slow and steady approach to saving and investing is best, but 21% say they cannot beas cautious as they want because they have too much catching up to do.

The percent of people who want to improve their finances jumped 7% from 2011 to 43% and was second only to those who want to improve their health at 48%. Spending more time with family came in at 31% and improving their careers at 12%.

Americans appear to be risk averse, according to the study, with 40% of respondents showing a strong preference for safe investments and only 25% showing a willingness to take higher risk for higher returns.

The majority of Americans are taking steps to pay down debt (62%) and develop a budget (61%). At the same time, 58% are trying to save a portion of their paycheck and build up an emergency fund, and 56% are trying to organize their financial documents.