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Dave Carpenter

Few Americans are prepared to ride out a financial emergency, study says

By Dave Carpenter
Associated Press / June 21, 2011

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Even after the jolt of the Great Recession, most Americans are not financially prepared for an emergency, a study found.

A survey released yesterday by Bankrate.com, a publisher of financial information, found that 24 percent of consumers have the recommended cushion of at least six months’ expenses set aside. The vast majority are not ready for contingencies; another 24 percent don’t have any emergency savings at all.

With 6.2 million people out of work for half a year or longer, the results underscore just how unprepared many are at a time when both job security and the economy pose concerns.

“The majority of Americans still have much work to do in building an adequate emergency savings cushion,’’ said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.

The survey results are somewhat surprising, he said, in that the high rates of both joblessness and underemployment dating to the 2007-09 recession have driven home the need for emergency savings. Yet the challenges posed by the economy and job market have limited people’s ability to sock money away.

Respondents under age 30 and those with annual incomes under $30,000 were the most likely to report having no emergency savings. Those likeliest to have six months’ expenses in an emergency fund were higher-income households and people in their 50s and 60s.

Fewer than half of those who participated in the poll had at least three months’ expenses in emergency savings — unchanged from 2007 results.

Discipline is key in building up emergency savings, McBride said.

The lesson for consumers, he said, should be to start putting more money away with every paycheck. If they build their savings by paying themselves first via automatic deposit, they will gradually move closer to the six-month savings level and force themselves to spend less.

Among other survey findings:

■ Feelings of financial security, as measured by Bankrate’s monthly Financial Security Index, declined slightly to 97.8 in June from 98.5 in May. Any reading under 100 signifies how much less financially secure people are feeling than a year ago.

■ About 26 percent said they were more comfortable with their debt compared with a year ago, and 19 percent felt less comfortable, the lowest figure since Bankrate began the monthly polls last December.

Results were based on a telephone survey of 1,006 adults conducted June 2-5 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Dave Carpenter writes for the Associated Press.