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Nearly 14% of Americans have wiped out their emergency savings during the pandemic: CNBC + Acorns survey

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David Bakke, 48, considered himself pretty responsible when it came to saving money.

As a freelance blogger, he had been putting money aside in an emergency fund and had about $6,000 saved before the pandemic.

But Covid-19 caused his business to slow while a surprise air conditioning repair set him back $3,000.

“It [emergency savings] was a little low to begin with,” he said. “Now, it’s almost nonexistent.”

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Bakke, who lives outside of Atlanta, said he didn’t anticipate having to rely on his savings for so long — “I don’t think anyone plans for a six-month emergency,” he said.

Since the virus was declared a pandemic, 14% of Americans — up to 46 million people— said they’ve wiped out their emergency savings, according to a new CNBC + Acorns Invest In You Savings Survey, conducted by SurveyMonkey. 

Another 11% of adults have had to borrow money to cover everyday expenses. 

The coronavirus crisis has caused unprecedented economic and social disruption, leaving millions of Americans out of work or working fewer hours and for less pay.

When broken down by age, older millennials fared the worst: Roughly a quarter, or 26%, of those ages 25 to 34 said they had completely depleted their emergency fund, compared with just 6% of boomers ages 65 or older, according to the survey of more than 5,400 adults in August conducted for CNBC + Acorns by SurveyMonkey. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

The survey echoes other recent findings that suggest many households are now experiencing financial hardship in the face of high unemployment and the economic downturn prompted by Covid-19.

As of the latest tally, the unemployment rate was 10.2%, which means about 1 in 10 Americans in the labor force can’t find work.  

While some Americans are, in fact, saving more than ever before, the number of people struggling far outweighs the number who are not, according to a separate Bankrate report.

About three times as many Americans have less in emergency savings now than before the coronavirus outbreak, the study said.  

If you need that savings to pay the bills, that’s what it’s there for.

Greg McBride

chief financial analyst at Bankrate

These extreme circumstances are exactly what emergency savings are designed guard against, said Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.

“If you need that savings to pay the bills, that’s what it’s there for,” he said.

McBride recommends stashing at least a six-month cushion to cover anything from medical bills to a home repair — or more, if you are the sole breadwinner in your family or in business for yourself.

But it may take a while until Americans are in a position again to set such funds aside. “When you are back to work full-time and income has returned to some semblance of normal, then you can rebuild the savings,” McBride said.

“You don’t dry off in the middle of a rain storm.”  

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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