Americans' Values on Savings Versus Debt

Have Americans turned over a new leaf since last year by saving more money versus incurring more credit card debt? The short answer is no.

In Bankrate's February survey, just more than half, or 54%, of Americans said they have more money in emergency savings than in credit card debt. This compares to 52% last year. One in 4 Americans has more credit card debt than emergency savings, up a smidgen from 23% last year.

And this year, 16% of survey respondents said they have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings. "This means they're only one unplanned expense away from having high-cost debt," says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate's senior financial analyst.

"Those most likely to have more in emergency savings than credit card debt are households with incomes of $75,000 or more, college grads and retirees," says McBride. And parents are most likely to have more credit card debt than emergency savings.

Not surprisingly, he adds, "Those most likely to have neither credit card debt nor emergency savings are households with annual incomes of less than $30,000, those with a high school education or less and the unemployed."

However, the news is not all grim. After all, savings do triumph over credit card debt, since twice as many Americans have more savings than debt. Sheyna Steiner's story, "Survey shows savings triumphs over debt," offers more analysis on this survey question as well as excellent tips on how to pay off debt while building savings.

Survey's Other Findings

Americans' outlook on their personal finances remains unchanged from January, according to Bankrate's survey. February's Financial Security Index holds at 97.3, but that's still the highest level since June 2011.

Every month, Bankrate asks Americans how they feel about vital financial matters pertaining to job security, savings, debt, net worth and their overall financial situation. Any index value below 100 indicates lower levels of financial security versus 12 months ago. When Bankrate first started the survey in December 2010, the Financial Security Index reading was 94.6. The following month, it spiked to 98.5, drifting lower from there until May, and then reaching its nadir of 92.3 in August 2011. The index has yet to register above 100, which would indicate more optimism than pessimism.

Some highlights from the components of the Financial Security Index:

  • Job security -- Consumers are still slightly positive, with 20% continuing to feel more secure than one year ago and 19% less secure, up from 17% in January.
  • Savings -- Consumers have been less negative in each of the past three months, with fewer feeling less comfortable and more feeling about the same as they did 12 months ago. Still, 38% are less comfortable with their savings now compared to one year ago, and just 14% are more comfortable.
  • Debt and net worth -- These were little changed from January, and both maintain essentially neutral readings.
  • Overall financial situation -- Consumers' feelings about their overall financial situation have improved for four months in a row, though consumers are still negative, with 24% saying it is better and 27% saying it is worse than 12 months ago.