The biggest financial mistake most Americans are making is not maintaining an emergency fund.
“I’ve written and spoken about this issue before, but it bears repeating because this truly is a national crisis,” said Carla Dearing, chief executive officer of SUM180, an online financial wellness service located in Lexington, Ky. “The single worst money mistake you can make is to fail to maintain a cash cushion for emergencies.”
Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans are still living paycheck-to-paycheck, even as the “Great Recession” ended in 2009, according to a GoBankingRates survey.
Nineteen percent of Americans have nothing set aside to cover an unexpected emergency, according to HomeServe USA data. Nearly 31 percent of Americans don’t have at least an extra $500 set aside.
“The lack of a financial safety net is an incredibly precarious and stressful situation to be in,” Dearing said. “Eventually, an event like a job layoff or a medical emergency will happen to most of us. Without an emergency fund, this can trigger debt that gradually spirals out of control.”
So why do few Americans ignore an emergency fund?
“Many people I’ve found don’t treat emergencies with urgency and respect,” said John Savin, founder of Savin Wealth Management in Boca Raton, Fla.
The gambling mentality of “I’ll take shot that it won’t happen” is a bad attitude and poor planning for the uncertainties in life, he added.
“The problem is not defining emergency in depth,” Savin said. “If income is lost how do you pay the necessary bills to not get kicked out of your home, power turned off or put food on the table. But how about unexpected health- or home-related expenses?”
Many people are forced to run up credit card debt, he said.