Will Fed's Peek at Personal Finances Remain Secret?

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has announced plans to analyze key facts about the personal finances of thousands of Americans, and he is promising that the information will be held in strict confidence.

The Fed sent out letters last week to approximately 10,000 families living in 79 cities and towns around the country asking them to participate in the central bank's latest "Survey of Consumer Finances."

The survey, which has been tallied once every three years since 1983, provides detailed information for the central bank and other economic researchers into household finances.

"The results of the survey will fill a gap in our knowledge about the financial circumstances of different types of households," Bernanke wrote.

The data collected will give a representative picture of what Americans own, from houses and cars to stocks and bonds, to how much they borrow and where they borrow the money.

"I assure you that we give the highest priority to guarding the privacy of the survey participants and the confidentiality of their answers," Bernanke wrote. "Your name will never be associated with the answers you provide."

The survey will be conducted for the Fed by the National Opinion Research Center, a social science organization located at the University of Chicago. Bernanke said in his letter that the interviewer who contacts those being asked to participate would be able to supply more information on how the privacy of participants will be protected.

The 2007 survey will have revised questions designed to find out more information on the various types of home mortgages that people are taking out. Researchers are hoping to gain more information on adjustable rate mortgages and what risks they may pose in light of rising mortgage defaults this year.

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