by Kayla Sedbrook
Two studies paint diverging pictures of current savings habits-one reflecting a healthy increase in retirement assets, but the other revealing frighteningly low emergency savings, with roughly half of Americans unprepared to handle a financial emergency.
Americans are responding to the recent "hit" to their nest eggs seriously, by working a few more years and delaying retirement, increasing savings, or shifting to slightly more conservative investment vehicles such as money market securities and fixed-income securities. Retirement assets, such as 401(k)s and IRAs, are up 3% from year-end 2010, to $18.1 trillion and just below the record high of third quarter 2007, according to a study by the Washington-based Investment Company Institute (CNNMoney.com).
However, one-quarter of Americans have no emergency savings at all, and another 22% admit their emergency savings would cover, at best, three months' worth of expenses, according to the most recent Bankrate Financial Security Index poll (Bankrate.com). The Bankrate Financial Security Index poll attempts to find out how consumers are feeling about their personal finances. Only 24% of respondents said they have the equivalent of six months or more of basic living expenses in a back-up fund.
Persistent unemployment is a major culprit. More than 6 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months, and many have had to drain emergency savings to make ends meet. Others admit they're waiting until they have extra money but, more often than not, that day never comes.
Whether you make $20,000 or $200,000 a year, create a plan to build your back-up fund:
Calculate basic living expenses-needs, not wants-for one month. Then multiply that by the number of months you wish to cover, generally between four and seven, or more if you think it may take longer to land a new job if you lose yours.
Separate it from your checking account, and don't keep it where you'll be tempted to raid it for frivolous purchases. Talk to a representative about considering a money market account that allows minimum withdrawals, or short-term certificates of deposit that earn dividends and allow you to reinvest at set intervals.
Use direct deposit of your paycheck, and then set up automatic transfers from your paycheck to the emergency fund. If necessary, start small and slowly increase the amount you designate. Make sure you have enough money in checking to cover bills. Ann from Miami says, "Once I started direct depositing a portion of my paycheck into my savings account at my Credit Union I saved a lot more money. It was like telling myself that the money being direct deposited was not even mine so I had to spend less each money."
Your six-month car insurance payment isn't an emergency-you know that's coming so budget for it. Emergencies may include major car repairs, appliance breakdowns, job loss, medical bills, or accidents.
If you have any further questions about how to financially plan during hard economic times, talk to your local Credit Union representative.Published 12-23-2011