Americans’ Gaping Hole in Their 3-Month Safety Net
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The Fiscal Times
November 20, 2013

The typical American employee is working with a financial safety net of just 12 weeks.

That’s how long 59 percent of U.S. workers say they could pay their bills without a paycheck if they became sick and unable to work, according to a new study by Cigna

That means they barely meet the minimum of three to six months of emergency savings that most financial planners recommend. Those with poor health or poor job security may need even more socked away in their emergency fund. Nearly a third of people surveyed said that they would burn through their savings in a month or less.

Related: Why We’re Robbing Tomorrow’s Retirement to Pay for Today

Even with comprehensive medical insurance, a major illness or medical injury often brings unexpected out-of-pocket costs, on top of standard household expenses like mortgage payments and utilities, which pile up whether or not a worker is able to collect a paycheck.

Among those surveyed by Cigna, nearly 6 in 10 said they would be at some level of financial risk if they became sick or otherwise unable to work for a month. Among workers with access to disability insurance, which could help with such incidences, 70 percent enroll, the study finds.

Most workers (72 percent) consider personal savings their primary resource to help them through unanticipated events, although younger workers are more likely to say they’d borrow from family and friends. 

Just over half (53 percent) of workers said they’d consider borrowing or withdrawing from retirement savings, while a third said they’d use their disability insurance.

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Life + Money Editor Beth Braverman covers all things personal finance. Formerly a senior reporter and social media editor at MONEY magazine, she’s also held gigs as a newspaper reporter and trade magazine editor.