Faced with economic difficulties, almost one out of every five, or 18%, of Americans are dipping into their 401(k) savings, Bank of America found in its annual Retirement Savings Survey.

Using this money “should be at the bottom of the list,” Craig Averill, BoA personal retirement solutions executive, told CNNMoney.com. “They need to be cognizant of what this decision means.

“In today’s economy, people are bombarded with messages that create a great deal of anxiety,” Averill added. “It puts them in a position of indecision. They’re concerned about making the wrong choice, so they do nothing. Americans need to avoid panicking.”

The No. 1 reason people gave for using 401(k) funds was to pay down credit card debt (25%), mortgage payments (22%) and recent job loss (22%).

Even more startling, BoA found that 62% are either behind on or have not even started saving for retirement. Among the affluent, 44% are behind.

Forty-three percent said they now expect to work longer years before retiring. Among affluent, the figure is 36%.

Averill said that people need to realize they need to “go back to basics. Remember the fundamentals. It can be painful sometimes to do a cash-flow statement, but it’s necessary. Focus not just on today, but the reasons you put a retirement plan together.”

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