An upbeat holiday season and a positive start to the new year led American consumers to report the highest degree of economic confidence in three years. The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor surveyed 8,200 consumers throughout the month of January 2011. The credit card processor's consumer confidence index rose to 93.1 points at the close of the survey cycle. The score represents a 5.6 point gain from December 2010, and the highest level charted since November 2007.

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents told Discover's researchers that they felt overall economic conditions were staying the same or getting better. While 51 percent of consumers reported that they felt the economy was still performing poorly, that percentage reflects a drop of five percentage points from December's figure. Ten percent of consumers rated the economy as "excellent," only the second time in the past year that percentage has reached double digits.

At the same time, the survey revealed that the percentage of Americans who expect a sudden financial shortfall in the next year is at its lowest level in 12 months. Only 35 percent of respondents told researchers they expected an unusual expense or drop in income during the next 12 months.