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Too many surveys warn that too many of us live too close to financial edge

The country seems to be coming out of wrenching financial times. Our savings habits are not.

A series of recent surveys point to an abysmal lack of savings by many U.S. households despite an official end to the recession and dramatic declines in unemployment rates. Especially in Florida.

If more people have jobs, it's not reflected in the ability of many to save much — if any — money.

Most vulnerable: lower middle class households making between $25,000 and $50,000. Households making less than that range often have more access to social services and are, in that sense, poor but better protected. So says the seventh annual America Saves survey of savings habits, released Monday.

"We are an affluent society, and yet a shockingly high percentage of Americans are not prepared for retirement, and a large number do not have money for emergencies," says Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves.

About a third of Americans live within their means and think they are prepared for the long-term financial future, says Brobeck. Another third live within their means, but often are not prepared for the long term. And another third simply struggle to live within their means.

The America Saves survey results reinforce the findings of other recent peeks at the precarious state of the American wallet.

Example: The number of Americans who can afford to pay off their credit cards continues to drop, says a new Bankrate.com survey. It found that nearly 30 percent of Americans report having more credit card debt than emergency savings. That's the highest percentage in the past four years. And the survey also found that only 51 percent of Americans have enough cash in their emergency accounts to pay off their credit card debt. That's the lowest percentage since the firm began tracking the number in 2011.

This comes as the U.S. personal savings rate continues to fall, says Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride.

"This is a reflection of the stagnant incomes, long-term unemployment and high household expenses that hamper the financial progress of many Americans," he says.

According to Brobeck, the recent recession hit households in two stages. The first stage hit middle- and upper-class households by hurting stock market investments and home values. After that, the unemployment rate soared and hit lower- and middle-class households.

Affluent people have largely recovered. But unemployment, underemployment and flat-lining wages still hurt lesser-income families that also may have accumulated debt in harder times.

"Florida has seen a 'hollowing out' of its middle-wage jobs," warns Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida's Future, yet another recent report by two economists for the LeRoy Collins Institute.

What Florida does not lack is an abundance of surveys pointing to way too many people living too close to the edge.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

Most vulnerable: Lower middle class

Lower

$25K-$50K
Middle

$50K-$75K
Upper

$75K-$100K
Spend less than income,

save difference
69%82%81%
Reducing consumer debt

or debt-free
788891
Sufficient emergency fund638285
Lower

$25K-$50K
Middle

$50K-$75K
Upper

$75K-$100K
Spend less than income,

save difference
69%82%81%
Reducing consumer debt

or debt-free
788891
Sufficient emergency fund638285

3 ways to start saving

1. Start small. Can you find a way to put aside $5 a day for starters?

2. Use tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Does your employer offer matching retirement savings? Sign up and immediately watch your savings plan take off. Even without matching funds, a 401(k) or similar retirement account offers tax advantages.

3. Automate. If money automatically gets transferred from your paycheck into a savings or retirement account each month, it becomes easier to build up funds.

Source: Seventh annual America Saves survey of savings habits

Too many surveys warn that too many of us live too close to financial edge 02/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 10:54pm]

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