By Catey Hill at Marketwatch
In the past few years, the job market has vastly improved and home prices have rebounded — yet Americans are becoming even more irresponsible when it comes to saving for emergencies.
According to a survey of 1,000 adults released by Bankrate.com on Tuesday, nearly one in three (29%) American adults (that’s roughly 70 million) have no emergency savings at all — the highest percentage since Bankrate began doing this survey five years ago. What’s more, only 22% of Americans have at least six months of emergency savings (that’s what advisers recommend) — the lowest level since Bankrate began doing the survey.
These findings mirror others — all of which paint an abysmal picture of Americans’ ability to withstand an emergency. For example, a survey released in March by national nonprofit NeighborWorks America also found that roughly one third (34%) of Americans don’t have emergency savings.
Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, says these low savings reflect that households haven’t seen their incomes ramp up and thus “household budgets are tight.” Plus, he adds “people don’t pay themselves first — they wait until the end of the month to save what’s left over and then nothing is left over.”
The problem with this lack of savings is that emergencies can and do happen, and when they do, you may be forced into an expensive solution like credit cards or personal loans — and in extreme cases having to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, half of Americans had experienced an unforeseen expense in the past year, according to a 2014 survey by American Express; of those, 44% had a health care-related unforeseen expense and 46% had one related to their car — both of which tend to be things you can’t avoid paying.
Thus, advisers recommend that most Americans have at least six months worth of income in their emergency fund — and more if they have children or other dependents. To build this up, “start an automatic transfer to a savings account and set a task to revisit and increase the amount in a month,” says Robert Schmansky, the founder and a financial adviser at Clear Financial Advisors. “See how much you can increase the amount until it becomes noticeable and then stop.”
Scott Cole, the founder of Cole Financial Planning, says to put the money in an FDIC-insured, high-yield savings account. Schmansky says that you want this account to be separate from your checking account “to prevent frivolous withdrawals.” He adds that while it’s important to find a good rate, it’s “equally important” that the money is accessible and the bank has “a long history of paying higher than market rates” as “too many banks in the past that started out as high yield payers dropped those rates after some time.”