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Even with most Americans feeling more financially secure than they did five years ago, many are struggling to set aside any type of savings.
About 40 percent of adults said that if faced with a $400 unexpected expense, they would either not be able to pay it or would do so by selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve's Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017, released on Tuesday.
Additionally, less than 40 percent of nonretired adults think they are on track in saving for their golden years and 25 percent have no retirement savings or pension at all, the report says.
These results show that "millions of Americans are in desperate need of establishing a savings habit before it's too late," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.
The survey, conducted in November and December, includes information from 12,000 people across the country about their financial well-being.
In general, the improving results mirror the economic expansion that's occurred since the Federal Reserve began conducted the study in 2013. Fully 74 percent of respondents said they either were doing OK or living comfortably in 2017, up from 70 percent a year ago and 63 percent in 2013.
Nevertheless, saving can be tricky, especially for households already working with a tight budget. Debt — i.e., from credit cards, student loans — also can stand in the way of being able to set aside money regularly.
Overall consumer debt, excluding mortgages, is on track to reach $4 billion this year, according to recent data from LendingTree.
For other people, part of the hurdle is making savings a habit. Allocating an amount to a retirement or savings account (or ideally both) before your paycheck reaches you can make setting money aside easier.
"Use direct deposit and payroll deductions to automate your savings so it happens first, before you even roll out of bed on payday morning," McBride said.
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