Save and Invest

Economists recommend saving at least $2,467 in an emergency fund—here's how to get there

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According to a 2019 report by economists Emily Gallagher and Jorge Sabat, $2,467 is a good "minimum savings rule," for low-income households, specifically. If you have that much saved, your probability of falling into financial hardship — defined as not being able to pay rent, bills or for medical care — is low.

To get to that number, Gallagher and Sabat, who are also assistant professors of finance, used data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to graph the relationship between falling into hardship in the next six months and how much you have saved as a buffer.

They looked at financial information for more than 70,000 lower-income households, which the report defines as those earning under 200% of the poverty line. To put that into context, that's up to about $30,000 a year for a family of four, says Gallagher. This group represents "about 30% of the U.S. working-age population," she adds.

They found that if you have very little saved — say $200 to $500 — each additional dollar you set aside dramatically reduces your likelihood of falling into financial hardship. But once you have at least $2,467, "all of a sudden, saving an additional dollar didn't seem to be that helpful anymore," says Gallagher. "It still reduced your probability of falling into hardship a little bit, but it wasn't nearly as effective as when you were at low levels of savings."

Having $2,467 in savings isn't optimal, Gallagher emphasizes: "Our results don't speak at all to achieving longer term financial goals, like paying for college or affording a house." If you're planning ahead for bigger expenses in the future, you'll want to aim to save much more. For people who struggle to set aside a portion of their income, though, $2,467 represents a good "minimum savings rule that you should be working toward," she says.

"Our data doesn't speak to middle- or higher-income people, but if this rule works for lower-income people, it should also work for middle- and higher-income people," she adds.

While saving $2,467 is more realistic than putting away three to six months' worth of living expenses, which money experts typically encourage, many Americans don't have that much: Just 43% of Americans say they could come up with $2,000 for an unexpected expense, according to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. Nearly half don't have an emergency fund.

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How to build a solid emergency fund

You don't have to save $2,467 right away — you can work your way up to that amount over time. Here's how to do so in two steps.

1. Open a separate account just for your emergency money

It's important to keep your hands off of this money for anything other than a real emergency. If you put your rainy day fund in a separate account, you'll establish a barrier between you and that money.

Consider stashing it in a high-yield online savings account, which can offer over 20 times more in interest than some of the country's largest banks pay.

2. Automate your savings

"The best way to fund your emergency account is always the best way to save money for anything, and that's to save money automatically," says money expert David Bach.

As soon as your paycheck gets deposited, move a percentage automatically from your checking account to your emergency account. That way, you won't even see it or be able to touch it. To figure out how much you should transfer, work backwards: Set a goal for how much you want to save and by when. Then, figure out how much you'd have to set aside per paycheck to reach that amount in that time frame.

For example, say you want to save $2,500 over the course of two years. If you get paid every other week, that's 52 paychecks in two years. Dividing $2,500 by 52 is about $48, meaning you should set aside $48 in your emergency fund every time your paycheck lands.

If you want to save $2,500 in one year, you'd have to save about $96 per paycheck. Over three years, it would be $32 per paycheck. Whatever timeline you set, make the transfers from your checking account to your emergency fund automatic.

Don't miss: Stanford analyzed 292 retirement strategies to determine the best one—here's how it works

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