If your semimonthly paycheck is the only thing keeping your head above water, you're not alone.
A new survey published by personal financing site Bankrate.com found that 63 percent of Americans haven't set aside at least $1,000 to get through an emergency. More than half of those surveyed (53 percent) would have to reduce spending elsewhere, use a credit card or borrow money to pay for a small, unexpected financial setback.
Bankrate's survey echoes a federal study published in May, when the Federal Reserve Board found that 47 percent of Americans "either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400 or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money."
The same federal survey found that 31 percent of respondents went without some form of medical care in 2014 because they couldn't afford it.
“Without emergency savings, you may not have money to cover needed home repairs,” Signe-Mary McKernan, senior fellow and economist at the Urban Institute, told MarketWatch. “Similarly, without emergency savings, people could raid their retirement account.”
Sadly, as Bankrate reports, quite a lot of people are struggling with emergency expenses. Forty percent of respondents had an unexpected emergency last year, and 30 percent had to either sign up for a payment plan or borrow money to mitigate the cost.
What's the answer if you have trouble saving? Well, more money to begin with, reports MarketWatch, along with cutting expenses.
More money and education can help. The latest Bankrate survey found that savings increased with income and education: Just 46% of the highest-income households ($75,000-plus per year) and 52% of college graduates lack enough savings to cover a $500 car repair or $1,000 emergency room visit. And while those figures could still be lower, Americans are willing to cut back on at least some expenses when money is tight: 58% say they’re “very/somewhat” likely to cut back on eating out, are likely to decrease their cable bill and 41% are likely to spend less on coffee at places like Starbucks, while 39% will seek out lower-cost cellphone bills.
Credit.com says that starting to build an emergency fund now is better than waiting, and having access to a low-interest credit line is essential.
If you need help building an emergency fund, here are some tips.
The Bankrate poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, which used live telephone interviewers to survey 1,000 people on both landlines and cell phones.