According to a new report by Bankrate released minutes ago, 66 million Americans have zero dollars saved for an emergency expense — zero — and 28 percent have only six months worth of savings. Yet, according to a 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 60 percent of Americans experienced a several-thousand-dollar financial shock in the past year.
“Americans don’t save enough, period,” said Bankrate economist Greg McBride bluntly, and “unplanned expenses are inevitable.”
While you might think low-income households face the most difficulty creating a financial cushion, the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either.
And even for households earning more than $75,000, almost one in four can stay above water for no more than three months.
The latest Bankrate findings jibe with a Federal Reserve study that got considerable attention last year, including from us here and here. It reported that an astounding 47 percent of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover even a $400 expense without borrowing money or selling something.
Rainy day funds in America seem to have gone the way of the horse and buggy. And yet, as Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack put it in their book “The Index Card,” featured recently on Making Sen$e’s weekly Thursday feature on the NewsHour: “Do you know anyone who ever planned for a broken-down car? On the other hand, do you know anyone who has ever had a car that didn’t break down?” Nope.
When it comes to savings, Gen Xers fare worst: 33 percent of Americans between roughly 35 and 55 have no emergency savings. Millennials, aka “Gen Y,” save more, even though they’re younger. Having seen parents or older siblings zapped by the Great Recession and having grown up in an environment of stagnant wages, “millennials as a whole are less consumption focused,” said Bankrate’s McBride, “have a greater aversion to debt and a greater inclination toward saving.” (Another Bankrate survey revealed that just 33 percent of millennials have a credit card, compared to 68 percent of Americans over the age of 65.)
Financial advisers generally recommend that people have between three and six months of emergency expenses salted away. McBride suggests six months — noting that during the depths of the recession, “more of 40 percent of those unemployed were out six months or longer.”
So what to do if you are among the 66 million Americans who have zero dollars saved for an emergency at the moment?
“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.