WASHINGTON, D.C. — As many Americans head into the holidays unemployed and behind in rent and utility bills, a new report from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and SaverLife found that people who maintained more than $100 in savings were much less likely to have their utilities shut off or resort to high-cost borrowing methods. Those who had more than $250 in savings experienced reduced likelihood of losing their housing for financial reasons. In addition, individuals with a savings balance over $100 were much more likely to say they were financially satisfied.
The joint study, Savings: A Little Can Make a Big Difference, helps advocates, researchers and policy makers examine how best to approach financial health for lower-income Americans. Researchers combined data from SaverLife’s online savings platform built for lower-income Americans with survey data that explored the SaverLife members’ financial attitudes, experiences and behaviors. The study focused on the savings habits of nearly 700 lower-income households and tracked participants’ three-month average daily savings balances available in their SaverLife-linked accounts. Even when controlling for household income, gender, age, marital status, presence of dependents in the household and education, important differences in financial well-being persisted among those who could maintain a savings balance over a mere $100 vs. those who could not.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, FINRA Foundation research indicated that many Americans were struggling with low wages, income volatility, debt and little or no emergency savings,” said FINRA Foundation President Gerri Walsh. “However, this new study underscores the need for innovative, low-barrier savings products that help financially struggling households build and maintain savings. We now know that even a very modest savings cushion correlates with significant life improvements.”
“This report supports what we’ve known all along—that just $100–$250 in savings can have a dramatic impact on the well-being and financial future of millions,” says Leigh Phillips, CEO of SaverLife. “We’re proud to partner with the FINRA Foundation to share the results of this report with a broad audience, so that we might all work together to help families save.”
Key findings from the report include:
- People who were unable to maintain a savings balance above $100 were 95% more likely to have their utilities shut off vs. people who were able to sustain a balance above $100 (37% vs. 19%, respectively).
- People who were unable to maintain a savings balance above $100 were 83% more likely to use high-cost borrowing, such as auto title loans, payday loans, refund advances, rent-to-own stores or pawn shops, vs. people who sustained a balance above $100 (42% vs. 23%, respectively).
- People who were unable to maintain a savings balance above $250 were 71% more likely to have moved in the past five years for financial reasons vs. people who were able to sustain a balance above $250 (29% vs. 17%, respectively).
- People who were able to maintain a balance above $100 were 61% more likely to say they were financially satisfied vs. those who couldn’t maintain a balance above $100 (53% vs. 33%, respectively).
Based on these findings, researchers observe:
- There is a growing need for innovative savings products that enable households struggling with income volatility and low wages to save, even in small amounts.
- Cash infusions, such as stimulus payments and tax credits, can help lower-income households avoid predatory lending, keep on top of utility bills and achieve housing stability. The implications for families should factor into policy decisions.
- Financial education efforts may need to be updated to encourage saving money even in the smallest of increments. The prevailing conventional wisdom that equates adequate emergency savings with three months of living expenses may be appropriate for some households, but is not always attainable for many lower-income Americans.
Founded in 2001, SaverLife (formerly EARN) believes that bringing meaningful change to America’s saving habits is not only possible but necessary. Nearly four in ten Americans have less than $400 in savings, and a single unexpected expense could profoundly disrupt their lives. The problem only compounds for the millions of people living paycheck to paycheck.
As a purpose-driven nonprofit, SaverLife is uniquely positioned to lead a systemic change. Through our engaging SaverLife platform, we provide prizes, rewards, expert resources, gameplay, and support proven to incentivize saving and spur new behavior. Through our integrated network of employers, financial institutions, nonprofits, and advocacy groups, we advance aspirational savings programs, analytic insights, and policy initiatives dedicated to a more equitable America.
About the FINRA Investor Education Foundation
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation supports innovative research and educational projects that give underserved Americans the knowledge, skills and tools to make sound financial decisions throughout life. For more information about FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit www.finrafoundation.org.
FINRA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to investor protection and market integrity. It regulates one critical part of the securities industry—brokerage firms doing business with the public in the United States. FINRA, overseen by the SEC, writes rules, examines for and enforces compliance with FINRA rules and federal securities laws, registers broker-dealer personnel and offers them education and training, and informs the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers a dispute resolution forum for investors and brokerage firms and their registered employees. For more information, visit www.finra.org.