Personal Savings Indicators Shift Across the Wealth Spectrum

It was actually the wealthiest Americans who saw interest and effort in personal savings dip over the last year, while those lower down on the income scale were steadier.

New survey data from America Saves, the education and advocacy campaign managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, finds strong savings commitment among those who have already started the difficult task of preparing financially for retirement via regular personal savings.

“The interest, effort, and effectiveness of Americans to save money remained steady compared to a year ago,” according to the America Saves Personal Savings Index, “except for declines for Americans earning $100,000 or more.”

The index for 2016 measures American’s “savings interest” at 65 out of 100, while “savings effort” is a little weaker, at 57 out of 100. Perhaps most importantly, “savings effectiveness,” a measure taking into account such aspects as investment choices and the individual’s willingness to tie up money for longer periods to achieve greater returns, stands at 56 for May 2016.

“All the readings were within two percentage points of the January 2016 and May 2015 indicators,” researchers observe. Compared with the earliest readings supplied by the index, from September 2013, all three indicators are down by at least a handful of percentage points. “Savings interest” shows the biggest gap, dropping from 71 out of 100 in 2013 to 65 today.

A few other interesting trends emerged from the data. For example, “despite being the most effective savers, savings indicators among the highest earners declined from May 2015 to May 2016. Among those making $100,000 or more, personal savings interest is down 3 percentage points, savings effort is down 6 percentage points, and savings effectiveness is down 5 percentage points from May 2016.”

Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves, says it surprised researchers to find that, unlike all other households, high-income households evidenced less interest, effort, and effectiveness than they did a year ago.

“I can only speculate that most of them know they are well-off but were a little shaken by the decline in stock prices early this year,” he adds. “Generally speaking, savings indicators were the same or higher than May of last year for Americans earning $75,000 or less. While savings efforts among those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 declined 5 percentage points, savings interest and effectiveness remained the same.”

NEXT: Troubling gaps remain 

While lower-income earners showed some impressive stoicism during the last year's turbulence, when compared to the highest earners, those making under $25,000 are still much less interested in saving, coming in 18 percentage points below the top-earning bracket in the index. The lowest earners also make less of an effort to save, by 24 points, and are less effective at saving. by 25 points. 

“Our survey makes clear that financial resources make an impact on American’s personal savings interest, effort, and effectiveness,” Brobeck concludes. “Low-income Americans struggling financially today are less able and less likely to be interested in saving or making an effort to save, which means they could continue to struggle tomorrow.”

The Personal Savings Index is measured for America Saves by ORC International, which surveyed a representational sample of over 1,000 adult Americans by cell phone and landline. Respondents were asked to respond to the three questions about interest, effort, and effectiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from “no interest” to “great interest,” and these responses were converted into percentages. 

More research and information on America Saves are at