Emerging from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the country does not have enough money to get by for three months, a new survey found.
The 25% who said they have no emergency savings is up from the 21% who said the same when questioned last year. Only 17% of the 1,009 adults queried indicated they have more emergency savings now than before the outbreak of COVID-19, and 34% said they have less money in emergency savings now.
Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, told the Washington Examiner the financial services company has tracked emergency savings for more than a decade, noting the "very apparent" lack of improvement relative to where the country was years ago.
"We did see some slight improvement as we got into the later stages of the economic expansion, but the pandemic seems to have reversed that progress," he said during an interview.
Twenty-six percent of respondents reported they have some emergency savings but less than three months' worth, while 19% said they could last between three and five months. A quarter of respondents said they could cover expenses for more than six months, and 5% were not sure or declined to answer.
Respondents answered based on how much money they have in emergency savings, meaning "money that is readily available in either a checking account, savings account, or money market."
A survey conducted at the end of February by Bank of America found only 36% said they planned to spend the last stimulus check, compared to 30% who said they would use it to pay off debts. Twenty-five percent said they would save it, and 9% planned to invest it.
Overall, the country is about evenly split on whether they are comfortable with the amount of emergency savings they have in the bank, with 51% saying they feel comfortable.
"Yes, the pandemic underscored the benefits of having emergency savings, but the reality of it is very few households have been able to move the needle," McBride said, adding that the multiple rounds of federal stimulus payments and curtailed spending during the pandemic haven't translated to a broad-based improvement in emergency savings that might have been expected.
Differences in the amount of emergency savings on hand were seen among various age groups and were particularly distinct in different income brackets. Higher earners were far more likely to have budgeted for emergency expenses — which would explain why the stimulus checks might not have had a profound impact on emergency savings.
Only 35% of households earning less than $50,000 per year said they are comfortable with their emergency savings, compared to 62% of those earning more than $50,000 annually. Just half of those making $30,000 annually said they have no emergency savings at all, as opposed to a mere 14% of those making $75,000 or more who said the same.
McBride explained that for most households, the stimulus payments, which featured an income cap, were devoted to day-to-day essentials and monthly bills rather than being stowed away for later.
That, coupled with Bankrate.com's finding that more than 40% of households had suffered an income disruption during COVID-19, makes the statistic showing 34% of households with less emergency spending now than before the pandemic less surprising, he said.
As the country continues to emerge from the pandemic, job applications are increasing and wages are rising. So, a large material improvement in emergency savings is still not expected, McBride noted. He pointed to the glut of pent-up demand and rising inflation, which has blown past forecasts, as factors eating up money that might otherwise land in savings accounts.
The survey conducted from June 22 to June 27 has a 3.74% margin of error.
Original Location: Most people have less than three months of emergency expenses, survey finds