But whatever the rules, one thing is clear: Americans who do save are saving more than they used to.
While there’s no magic number as to the amount of money someone should have in savings, experts agree that at least having an emergency fund — anywhere from 3-to-9 months of expenses — in savings is imperative. One rule of thumb is to follow the 50/30/20 budgeting method by allocating 50% of one’s income for needs, 30% for wants and 20% for savings.
But whatever the rules, one thing is clear: Though Americans are saving less than they used to, the average savings account balance still might be higher than you’d guess: Indeed, Northwestern Mutual’s 2022 Planning & Progress Study revealed that the average amount of personal savings (not including investments) was $62,086 in 2022 (down from $73,100 in 2021).
And according to data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances by the US Federal Reserve, the most recent year for which they polled participants, Americans have a weighted average savings account balance of $41,600 which includes checking, savings, money market and prepaid debit cards, while the median was only $5,300.
Americans do have a lower savings rate now though. The personal savings rate, the amount of disposable income that people save, was just 4.4% in April, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis — that’s the lowest rate recorded since September 2008. That 4.4% compares to 6% earlier this year and upwards of 33% in April 2020, when Americans hoarded cash deep in the pandemic. And it’s happening even as savings account rates have begun to climb. So what exactly is going on here?
Many people still have no savings, or very little: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans didn’t save any money in 2021, according to recent data from the latest MagnifyMoney Savings Index. And 18% of respondents admittedly contributed zero dollars to their savings last year and another 48% contributed fewer than $5,000. Bankrate’s July 2021 Emergency Savings survey revealed that a quarter of Americans have no emergency fund at all and just 1 in 6 households report having more savings now than prior to the pandemic.
If you’re feeling far behind about your savings, be patient. Pros say you should start small — don’t expect to pile up savings overnight. It may take many years of diligent saving to get to the point where your emergency cushion is built up to handle six months of expenses and you’re ready to focus saving for longer-term goals like retirement or your kids’ college funds, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. Start by saving one month’s worth of expenses and go from there.
Beyond that, “you should also consider additional savings goals, such as saving for a downpayment on a house or saving for a special vacation. The funds for these goals can be put in separate sub accounts so that they’re not mixed in with money that’s set aside in an emergency fund,” says Chanelle Bessette, banking specialist at NerdWallet. Certified financial planner Elaine King Fuentes adds, “It would be ideal to have liberty and to be able to do anything you want for at least one year.”
One big no-no when it comes to savings: Putting it in an account that pays little (the average savings account is only paying 0.06% now). Just 21% of Americans say they kept their savings in a high-yield savings account that pays better APYs in 2021, while 45% reported using a regular savings account according to a survey conducted by NextAdvisor.
But accounts with higher APYs do exist. In fact, as of the writing of this story, LendingClub was offering interest of 0.65% with a $2,500 minimum balance, Marcus by Goldman Sachs has savings accounts with 0.50% and no minimum balance, Alliant’s current APY is 0.55% with $5 minimum balance, and Comenity Direct’s APY is 0.60% with a $100 minimum balance.