MONEY Savings

Despite Lessons of Recession, Many Are Ill-Prepared for a Crisis

Emergency box broken
Peter Crowther—Getty Images

One in four Americans have no savings set aside for an emergency, a new survey finds.

When it comes to your finances, you need to be prepared for the unexpected: a gap between jobs, a health crisis, a leaky roof that needs to be repaired. But 26% of Americans have no savings set aside for an emergency, according to a new report from Bankrate.com.

What’s more, many of those who do have a rainy day fund have too small of one. Only 23% of Americans say they have set aside at least six months’ worth of living expenses—the commonly recommended minimum. For 24% of Americans, an emergency fund would last less than three months, the survey found; another 17% have enough money for three to five months of expenses.

Americans have been poor savers for decades, notes Bankrate.com financial analyst Greg McBride. “What did change since the recession was the recognition of the importance of emergency savings,” says McBride. “Americans know that having emergency savings is important, they know they don’t have enough, and they feel very uncomfortable about that. But despite that, they’re just not making any progress.”

These findings jibe with MONEY’s recent survey of Americans and their finances, which found that while Americans are exercising more financial restraint than they did before the recession, they still aren’t saving as much as they should.

Six in 10 told MONEY that they were trying to build their emergency savings, up from less than 25% who said the same in 2009; three-quarters reported cutting back on spending. Still, 58% wouldn’t be able to handle an unexpected $10,000 expense. Even high-income families would feel the pinch—38% of those earning more than $100,000 said they wouldn’t be able to cover a $10,000 surprise.

Similarly, the Bankrate survey found that insufficient savings crosses all income groups: Among households with incomes of $75,000 or more, only 46% have a six-month emergency reserve.

Another alarming finding: Americans age 30 to 49 are the worst off. One-third don’t have anything saved for a rainy day.

“That’s a pretty scary finding in that they are more likely to have the house, two cars, three kids, the dog,” McBride says. “They need those emergency savings more than anybody.”

The bright spot? Millennials may have learned from their elders’ mistakes. More than half—54%—have three- to five-months’ worth of expenses set aside in cash.”Young adults have had a front row seats for the recession and the anemic recovery,” says McBride. “They’ve recognized the need for emergency savings.”

Need another impetus to build up your rainy day fund? In MONEY’s recent survey on marriage and money, 25% of couples say they fight about insufficient emergency savings.

For more on budgeting and saving:

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