(Bloomberg News) Americans say they're more financially secure today than a year ago, after a recovery in the stock market increased confidence that the worst effects of the recession are over, according to Bank of America Corp.

The Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Quarterly, which surveyed 1,000 people with investable assets of at least $250,000 from September 13 to October 7, found that 41% said they're better off this year compared with the same period last year. About 39% of Americans said they're risk-averse about investing, down from 50% in the previous survey.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained about 23% in 2009 and 6% this year, compared with a 38% drop in 2008.

"There's a very clear split in terms of how affluent Americans see their own personal financial fortunes and the larger U.S. economy," Andy Sieg, head of retirement and philanthropic services for Bank of America, said in an interview. "They view their personal financial picture as being far rosier."

About 78% of those surveyed are confident their economic circumstances will improve in 2011, the study said. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News earlier this month projected the unemployment rate will average 9.6% this year and 9.3% in 2011.

More women considered themselves conservative investors, with 44% favoring investments with lower risk, compared with 34% of men, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank said. Six percent of women said they were aggressive investors, compared with 17% of men.

Later Retirement

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed expect to retire later than planned, compared with 29% in January. During the past year, 20% of respondents used savings to meet short- term expenses, according to the bank.

Rising health care costs remain an issue for Americans, with 60% citing them as a top concern, down from 62% in an April survey, Merrill Lynch said. An estimated 47% of Americans born between 1948 and 1954 may not be able to afford basic expenses and uninsured health-care costs through retirement, according to the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Braun Research, a marketing research firm based in Princeton, New Jersey, conducted the survey on behalf of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.