Most Americans don’t have the money to handle common emergencies like a car breakdown.
In a national survey by Bankrate.com, 63 percent of people said they don’t have the savings to cover a $500 car repair. Only four in 10 Americans would be able to rely on savings to cover anything beyond their usual bills.
That suggests most people live paycheck to paycheck. The survey found just 23 percent thought they could handle an emergency bill by cutting spending.
Another 15 percent said they would cope by borrowing from family. And 15 percent would use a credit card.
The findings show that most Americans are financially vulnerable. Although consumer confidence numbers show Americans feeling good about jobs after the Great Recession, most still aren’t stashing money away.
A Federal Reserve study of the “well-being of U.S. households” in 2014 showed about half of people saving.
In December 2012, as the fear of recession was still fresh, the savings rate in the U.S. climbed to 11 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. But it fell to 4.6 percent in August and hit 5.5 percent in November.
Since the recession, people have been rebuilding their finances after millions lost homes and jobs and had credit cards and other borrowing shut off by banks. As pressure has eased, they’ve become more likely to spend.
The Federal Reserve reported in 2014 that only 47 percent of U.S. households surveyed were saving for the unexpected. And if Americans ended up with $1,000 in extra income, almost half would spend some of it.
The people most able to weather an emergency are those with incomes over $75,000 or a college education, according to the survey. Yet, even with incomes over $75,000, 46 percent said they couldn’t pay a $500 car repair. About 52 percent of people with college degrees said they wouldn’t have $500 for the car emergency.
The issues seem to be both financial and behavioral. The St. Louis Federal Reserve reported that the median income of the middle class was 16 percent lower in 2013 than in 1989. But studies also note that people who are able to save are not. In a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, most said they could afford to save $20 a week, or $20 more a week, but didn’t think it would matter.