What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell us
COVID-19

Could your emergency savings pay off your credit card debt?

Samantha Fields Feb 25, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
More than a quarter of Americans owe more on their credit cards than they have in savings, according to Bankrate’s recent poll. That’s down slightly from a year ago. Ridofranz via Getty Images
COVID-19

Could your emergency savings pay off your credit card debt?

Samantha Fields Feb 25, 2021
Heard on:
More than a quarter of Americans owe more on their credit cards than they have in savings, according to Bankrate’s recent poll. That’s down slightly from a year ago. Ridofranz via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Just over half of American adults have more money saved for an emergency than they do credit card debt, according to a recent poll by Bankrate. That’s actually an improvement. So how exactly has the pandemic changed the way some people are prioritizing saving?

Andrea Zevallos knows what it feels like to have practically no savings. She said it’s terrifying. Until very recently, Zevallos had only saved up about a month’s worth of rent for her Los Angeles apartment.

She owed much more than that in credit card debt. “January 2019, I was at roughly $11,000 of debt,” she said.

That’s when she got serious about trying to pay it off and started keeping track of her progress in a notebook.

“Skipping forward to 2020, I was down to the last $2,000,” Zevallos said.

Then, the pandemic arrived, and she had to decide whether to prioritize paying down her debt or building up some savings in case she got laid off.

“I knew that while it would feel nice to have sort of a safety net of having that money in my bank account,” Zevallos said, “it wouldn’t actually be a safety net if I still owed money.”

More than a quarter of Americans owe more on their credit cards than they have in savings, according to Bankrate’s recent poll. That’s down slightly from a year ago.

The number of people who have saved more than they owe is up, about 5%. Mark Hamrick at Bankrate said that’s partly because there are fewer ways for people to spend money right now.

But, also, “this experience, basically, over the past year, has underscored how financially fragile many Americans either were or could become,” Hamrick said. “And so this is sort of a living, breathing advertisement, if you will, as to why we do need to make emergency savings a priority.”

Of course, not everyone can. But for many people who are lucky enough to have choices about what to do with their money, the upheaval and uncertainty of the last year have changed how they think about saving and spending.

“We probably were a lot more cavalier with our credit card debt,” said Nicole Freund, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband and two kids.

Freund said they’ve always known intellectually that they should be saving, in case anything unforeseen happened. But, it never really felt that urgent.

“I think since the pandemic really sort of shook us up in terms of stability, it made it a lot more salient, really, to actively make sure we have that cushion,” Freund said.

That’s especially true because her job is funded by a grant, which could expire. So she’s just much more aware now of how tenuous it could be.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.