What Resources Do Families Have for Financial Emergencies?

The role of emergency savings in family financial security

What Resources Do Families Have for Financial Emergencies?
house with rainStocksy

This brief is the second in a series of three that explore how financial shocks and emergency savings are related to the financial well-being of families. Savings may help households cope with unexpected expenses and preserve wealth over the long run. Understanding the frequency and impact of events that might strain budgets, and the resources families have to cope with them, is crucial to building policies that promote financial well-being.

For the typical family, earnings have grown little over the past decade and income has frequently been volatile, with more than half of U.S. households reporting that income or expenses vary from month to month. Income alone, however, no matter how consistent, does not guarantee that households can accumulate a sufficient financial cushion to protect themselves from the unexpected. One in 3 American families reports having no savings, including 1 in 10 of those with incomes of more than $100,000 a year. Lack of savings tops the list of financial worries of many households and affects families at all income levels. The findings in this issue brief reveal that a significant portion of the population is at financial risk, but they also highlight an opportunity for broad-based efforts to enable and support family savings.

Key Findings

  • 78% of Americans surveyed said they would use their checking and savings accounts for an unexpected expense.

    However, 69 percent said they would use multiple resources, suggesting that many people realize they might not have enough liquid savings to cover the full cost of the financial shock. Additionally, 49 percent of respondents said they would use credit, and 36 percent would borrow money from a person.

  • 41% of households do not have enough liquid savings to cover a $2,000 expense.

    Most households, across various demographic groups, have very little savings and few assets that they could turn to in the event of an unexpected expense

  • 80% of respondents have lower savings than they say similar households should have.

    The typical household would need to increase its liquid savings by over $9,000 to achieve this savings level.

  • $5 The amount a quarter of black households said they would have if they liquidated all financial assets.

    The typical white household has slightly more than one month’s worth of income in liquid savings, compared with just 12 days for the typical Hispanic household and five days for the typical African-American household.


States of Innovation