1 in 3 Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings


Roughly one third of Americans say they have higher balances on their credit cards than they do in their rainy-day funds, a new report shows. The worrisome percentage points to why so many people remain gloomy about the economy, despite cooling inflation and low unemployment.

According to a new study from Bankrate, 36% of Americans say they have amassed more credit card debt than emergency savings. That’s the highest percentage of participants to say so in the 12 years since Bankrate added the question to its annual survey. Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults point to inflation as the main reason why they are unable to save for the unexpected.

“Inflation has been a key culprit standing in the way of further progress on the savings front. Fortunately, rising interest rates have also provided more generous returns on savings,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate said in the survey published Wednesday. 

But rising interest rates can also hurt finances, as is the case with credit card rates which have surged over the past year. Among survey respondents, 45% say rising interest rates are behind their lower savings account contributions. 

Despite those rising credit card rates and ballooning balances, 21% of Americans say they’d resort to using their credit cards to cover an emergency expense of $1,000 or more and pay it off over time. 

But they do so at the risk of falling farther behind on their financial goals, according to Hamrick.

“Leaning on credit cards [for emergency expenses] is concerning…. [it] suggests they don’t have many alternatives,”  Hamrick told CBS MoneyWatch. “At a time when credit card interest rates are averaging nearly 21%, that’s a less than optimal option.” 

Nearly one in four, or 22%, of respondents reported they have no emergency savings at all, a one percentage decrease from the 23% of Americans last year who also found themselves in the precarious position of having no emergency savings. 

Faced with a sudden loss of income, 66% of U.S. adults said they worry they wouldn’t have enough emergency savings to cover living expenses for one month.

Anyone with no such savings, including those without access to credit, risks tremendous stress, or worse, on their personal finances when hit with a significant unplanned expense such as a major home or auto repair,” said Hamrick.

Bankrate’s report includes results from a national survey of 1,036 respondents that was conducted in December 2023, in addition to several other polls conducted last year.  Participants responded to the survey online or by telephone, supplying their answers in either English or Spanish. 



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