Personal Finance

Many Americans say they're not ready for a recession. But here are the steps they're taking

Key Points
  • Despite the red flags flappingat  the economy, many Americans say they're not financially prepared for a recession.
  • Here are some of the steps people say they're taking to make the next downturn less painful.
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Despite the red flags flapping for the economy, many Americans say they're not financially prepared for the next recession.

Two in 5 people say they're not ready for an economic downturn in the next year, according to a new Bankrate poll. (Some 2,600 people were interviewed at the end of September.)

"I don't think there's a perfect amalgamation, but you can insulate yourself to an extent," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Here are some of the steps people said they're taking to make the next recession less painful.

Ramping up savings

A third of respondents in the Bankrate survey said they were putting away more money for an emergency and retirement. During the Great Recession, some 7 million Americans were out of a job for more than six months, McBride said.

Ideally, your emergency savings would cover you during a period of unemployment and not force you to go into debt. "Building up extra savings is a great protective measure because it can help bridge the gap if your income drops," said certified financial planner Jon Beyrer, director of wealth management at Blankinship & Foster in Solana Beach, California.

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Divide your spending into "essential" and "discretionary" categories to start thinking about where you can cut back and save more, Beyrer said. "It may not be fun, but if it's only temporary it's more doable," he said.

A period of unemployment can also result in you missing out on the ability to contribute to your 401(k) plan, and potentially get an employee match. Saving more now can help.

"If you're closing in on retirement, this is particularly beneficial," McBride said.

Paying down debt

Another third of people Bankrate surveyed said they were paying down debt in preparation of a recession. Not having a credit card bill will give you more breathing room if times get tight, McBride said.

"It also frees up borrowing capacity, should you need it later on," he said.

Beyrer recommends listing all of your debts, their balances, payments and interest rates. Focus on paying off the debts with the highest interest rates.

"Of course, not adding to debt is very important, too," he said.

Looking for another job

Around 10% of people were looking for another job in preparation for a recession, Bankrate found.

You can't know when the next downturn will be, said Alexandra Levit, the author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College." But, she said: "What we do know for sure is that the job market is really good right now."

And landing a higher-paying job can make a tough time more bearable.

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Overall, she said, it's most important that you continue to improve your skill set. "You have to be the person who becomes indispensable," Levit said.

She said it's easier now than ever to learn new skills, thanks to a number of free online classes offered by education sites such as Coursera, edX and Udemy.

Focus on building "transferable" skills, she added. For example, familiarity with a particular software might not serve you as well as a proven ability to work well with clients.

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