Many Americans One Crisis Away From Ruin
With people less worried these days about losing their jobs, Americans are feeling much better about their finances. Yet after the bills are paid, many people struggle to keep extra cash in the bank.
Roughly one in four, or 29 percent, of Americans don’t have money set aside to cover emergencies, up from 26 percent last year, according to an annual survey from Bankrate.com. The findings pointed to the lowest saving rates seen in five years. “This is the money that helps you sleep at night,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. “You know if something unplanned arises, you’ve got money squirreled away to cover it.”
Many of the people who had savings didn’t have enough money to get them through a serious emergency or prolonged period of unemployment.
About 20 percent of people said their savings would not last longer than three months, the amount often recommended by financial planners.
At the same time, the number of people with substantial savings is falling. About 22 percent of people had enough cash to cover six months of expenses, the lowest level in five years.
Why is it so hard to save? While more people are finding work and earning paychecks, those paychecks haven’t grown much over the past several years, McBride said. Once wages start to grow, that could lead to better saving habits in the near future, he said.
Indeed, many people find there’s not much money left over after they’ve paid the bills, according to a separate study by Capital One Bank. About 25 percent of people said they are struggling just to “keep up with” their monthly bills like the mortgage, car payment and other expenses. One in 10 said they spend more money than they earn.
Still, people said they would be willing to make some sacrifices to boost their savings.
Thirty-four percent of respondents said they would give up air conditioning if it meant having more money in the bank. Some 30 percent said they would give up their smartphones for six months.
All of this is easier said than done, of course. But the changes needed to build saving habits don’t have to be drastic. People can start by saving $25 or $50 a month, increasing those amounts as they cut down on expenses elsewhere, said Nicole Lapin, a personal finance author.
Others might be more motivated to save if they have a specific goal in mind, like a vacation or a wedding, she said.
Saving also gets easier when it’s made automatic, she adds. Once workers know how much they can spare, even if it’s $50 a month, they can have it automatically directed into their saving accounts. Only 21 percent of people surveyed by Capital One had savings withdrawn automatically from their paychecks.