Lack of Emergency Savings Intersects Retirement Concerns

The majority of respondents to a Cuna Mutual Group survey feel positive about their prospects for upward wealth mobility; on the other hand, a quarter say they have no emergency savings.

A survey of more than 1,000 Americans, commissioned by CUNA Mutual Group, suggests many hold an assessment of their financial security that is overly optimistic.

The survey finds that middle class Americans (defined here as those making between $35,000 and $100,000 per year) tend to feel positive about their prospects for upward mobility. When asked to grade the ability of the middle class to achieve the American Dream, the average response was “B-.”

 Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, says the middle class continues to experience stress from the long-term impacts of the Great Recession.

“We’re still seeing middle class families struggle with sticky wages, inadequate liquidity, high debt, insufficient savings and difficulty building wealth,” Rick says. “This population is among the most exposed to an eventual downturn.”

Despite these headwinds, Americans’ outlook is described as “sunny,” and is supported by respondents’ assessment (accurate or not) of their near-term financial security. According to the survey, 62% say they feel somewhat or very confident about their personal financial situation, and nearly half (46%) believe it is very unlikely that they will miss a loan payment over the next one to two years.

“This cautious optimism, however, belies a more troubling financial picture,” Rick says. “More than half of respondents are ill-equipped for an emergency, with 23% saying they have no emergency savings and 30% saying they only have one to three months’ worth.”

Worries about retirement

According to CUNA Mutual Group, few survey respondents feel prepared for retirement, with only 28% saying they’ll be able to retire with financial confidence in their lifetime. In fact, many seem to be more focused on short-term goals: 38% say they feel they’ll be able to buy a new car in their lifetime, and 37% say they’ll be able to travel internationally.

Sentiments among participants generally remained consistent across age, ethnicity, gender and other demographics. However, Millennials showed “significant divergence from overall trends when it came to many of the traditional components of the American Dream.” The survey shows fewer Millennials have prioritized buying a home or starting a family compared with the general population.

“A vibrant middle class is essential to a healthy, functioning economy and nation,” Rick says. “But we’re seeing a troubling picture emerge as their ability to manage their finances in the near term is coming at the expense of the long term. No one can control the economic winds, but the financial industry can provide the resources the middle class needs to break out of the cycle of economic insecurity.”

The 2018 CUNA Mutual Group survey assessed 1,258 U.S. adults ages 18 or older and making an annual income of $35,000 to less than $100,000. The survey was fielded in August 2018. Additional information about the company can be found at