By Gina Horkey, GOBankingRates.com (TNS)
Life is full of twists and turns. So when an unforeseen home repair, illness or job loss happens, having a stash of cash set aside can make the difference between a financial disaster and a minor inconvenience.
However, roughly one-third of American adults (nearly 72 million people) have no emergency savings to fall back on if they had to deal with a financial crisis, according to a survey released by NeighborWorks America, a community development organization. A recent survey by GOBankingRates found that 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.
Although spare cash might sometimes seem hard to come by, building emergency savings doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are three easy tricks you can use to quickly save for an emergency fund in 2016.
SWITCH TO A HIGH-YIELD SAVINGS ACCOUNT
Typically, the best place to keep an emergency fund is in a savings account with a bank or credit union. These accounts offer easier access to your money than certificates of deposit, or CDs, but not so easy that you’re tempted to access the funds on a whim. By keeping your money in a savings account, it remains safe, and you’ll earn better interest than you would on your checking account — and certainly better than if you kept it under your mattress.
When it comes to savings yields, all accounts are not created equal. Current annual percentage yields on a basic savings account at many banks range anywhere from 0.01 percent to 0.25 percent. Although this is better than earning nothing, your money is not growing as fast as it could. There are, however, a few banks that offer higher-than-average savings account rates. For example, the savings account from MySavings Direct offers an impressive 1 percent yield.
If you were to put $10,000 in a MySavings Direct savings account and let it sit for a year, you would earn $100 in interest. If your interest rate was only 0.01 percent, you would earn $1; with a 0.25 percent rate, you would earn $25.
By moving your emergency savings into a high-yield savings account, you have the advantage of earning a higher interest rate and growing your funds faster, while still enjoying the safety and accessibility of a simple savings account.
LEVERAGE CASH-BACK REWARDS CARDS
One of the biggest reasons to have an emergency fund is to avoid going into debt when you have an unexpected expense. So it might sound counterintuitive to suggest using credit cards to build up your emergency fund, but that’s just what John Rosenfeld, head of Everyday Banking at Citizens Bank, suggested you can do.
“Using a cash-back rewards card for your everyday purchases can help you save money, provided you pay off your full balance each month,” he said. Credit cards can offer up to 1.8 percent cash back on your purchases, which can quickly add to your savings balance. Plus, a credit card that gives you an extra bonus can help grow your savings as well, he said.
Let’s say you have Chase’s Freedom card, which offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500. If you spend $1,500, that’s an extra $75 you’ll get back. You can also get unlimited 1 percent cash on all other purchases, plus a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months following your account’s opening. So if you charge $10,000 on your credit card on all other purchases in 2016, you can potentially have at least $325 to add to your emergency savings fund.
ELIMINATE ‘SLOW LEAKS’
Bank fees are some of the most common, yet unnecessary, expenses paid by consumers, according to Benjamin Glaser at DealNews.com. Take a look at the average fee for these three banking services, according to Money-Rate.com’s mid-2015 survey of bank fees:
—Checking account monthly fee: $13.09
—ATM fee for non-customers: $2.71
—Overdraft fee: $32.44
Getting rid of just the most common three fees each month — ATM, overdraft and monthly maintenance — could save you more than $500 a year. Finding a fee-free checking account could save you more than $157 alone.
Other common fees you might be paying include 401(k) fees, investment fees and cash advance fees. Check with your financial planner or financial institution to find out if you’re overpaying in fees. A typical American who starts earning a median salary at age 25 is expected to pay $138,336 in 401(k) fees over their lifetime, according to The Motley Fool. Since the median expected retirement age is 65, according to a Gallup poll, that’s nearly $3,460 a year for 40 years.
Glaser also thinks that the new year is a perfect time to review your phone bill for additional ways to save. “Carriers have introduced a confusing array of new payment options over the last year, but if you know your phone usage habits well, you could save money,” he said. With low-cost providers like Republic Wireless and Ting offering monthly service for around the price of a few cups of coffee, now’s the time to really take advantage of the potential cost-savings.
Jeffrey Christakos of Westfield Wealth Management found his money leaking in the form of eating out for lunch. He suggested making lunches at the beginning of the week and freezing them until you plan to use them. “We would take a sandwich with us to work and let it thaw out during the morning hours,” he said. “Otherwise, we would have gone out to lunch and eaten random meals at expensive prices.”
It can be well worth your time to detect and eliminate slow leaks. With a little legwork, your annual savings could be more than a few thousand dollars.
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Photo: Your financial life raft. Chris Potter via Flickr