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More than one-third of America holds no emergency savings

Improving economy still leaves millions on brink of foreclosure

Despite marked improvement in the economy since the end of the housing crisis, millions of Americans are still on the brink of foreclosure due to a lack of savings, a new study from NeighborWorks America found.

According to the second annual financial capability survey from NeighborWorks America, more than 34% of adults – more than 72 million people – say they don’t have any emergency savings, up from 29% reporting no emergency savings one year ago.

Additionally, the survey found that 47% of adults said that their savings would last three months or less, a significant increase from the 41% in last year’s study.

Of the 34% of adults that say they have no emergency savings, 50% of African-American and 42% of Hispanic adults said that they had no emergency savings, up from 43% and 39%, respectively, in 2014.

“These data are sobering, but not that surprising for those of us who have been working on the front-lines to help families rebuild their finances,” said Paul Weech, president and CEO of NeighborWorks America. “The hole that many people found themselves in due to the Great Recession – dug by sharply reduced home equity during the crisis and lagging wages during the recovery — was deep and digging out is going to take more time.”

The survey results were released Tuesday to mark the beginning of National Financial Capability month, and to call attention to the fragility of many families’ finances despite an improving economy and a stock market chasing records, NeighborWorks America said.

The NeighborWorks America study also found that the percentage of adults saying saving for emergencies is an important financial goal fell to just 1%, down from 5% one year ago.

“While the recession is over, most economists say the economy is on tenuous ground,” NeighborWorks America said in the study. “That is why the absence of any savings for one-third of adults, and the low amount of emergency funds for many in general is particularly worrisome in light of how long it takes the average person who becomes unemployed, and would need to draw on emergency savings, to find a new job.”

According the NeighborWorks America study, February data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the average unemployed person was out of work for 31 weeks, which is more than twice as long as people say that their emergency savings would last.

Unsurprisingly, the more income a person earns, the more likely they are to have emergency savings, the survey showed.

Approximately 19% of people making $100,000 or more per year said that they had no emergency fund, while 53% of people earning less than $40,000 said that they had no such reserve, the study found. Many people whose income places them squarely in the middle class also are financially vulnerable, with 35% of adults with income between $40-59,000 holding no emergency fund, NeighborWorks America added.

Additionally, 24% of adults said their most important savings goal is retirement, down four points from 28% last year, the survey showed.

“The number of adults who said that they were saving for a down payment on a home also declined, dropping to 8% from 13% in 2014,” NeighborWorks America said. “This suggests that despite continued low interest rates, and more rational credit availability, the housing recovery may be weaker than anticipated.” 

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