Financial security improving -- except for savings

SAN FRANCISCO - FEBRUARY 05: Piggy banks sit on the shelf at the After The Quake store February 5, 2009 in San Francisco, California. As the global economy continues to falter and people lose confidence in traditional banks, piggy banks and money boxes are gaining popularity as people are starting to save their money at home. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Justin Sullivan

Do you have money set aside to handle big financial emergencies? If so, pat yourself on the back. You're in the minority. The vast majority of Americans -- some 70 percent -- couldn't cover six months of living expenses if they lost a job or suffered a temporary disability that prevented them from working, according to new research by Bankrate.com.

Only half of Americans have enough savings to hold them for three months, according to the study, while some 27 percent have no savings at all. To be sure, that's an improvement from pre-recession days, when just 39 percent of Americans had savings that would last three months, but it still leaves the bulk of consumers at risk of falling off an economic cliff in a crisis.

On the bright side, many other aspects of consumer's economic health have been improving markedly, says Greg McBride, Bankrate's senior financial analyst.

"People who are less comfortable with their savings now versus a year ago outnumber people who are more comfortable by a margin of nearly 2-to-1," he says. "That's especially jarring, since people are feeling much more optimistic about other aspects of their finances."

Indeed, outside of savings, consumers have been reporting steady improvement in overall economic health, reporting greater job security, improving net worth and better control over their debt. Specifically:

Job security: The Bankrate study found that 25 percent said they were more secure about their employment situation than they were a year ago, while 62 percent reported no change. Only 13 percent were less secure.

Debt: The research also showed that 30 percent were more comfortable with their debt level than they were a year ago, while half said their debt was unchanged. Some 18 percent were less comfortable.

Net worth: Of the participants in the study, 26 percent said their net worth -- the value of assets minus debts -- had improved over the past year, while 17 percent said it had diminished. More than half -- 54 percent -- said their net worth was unchanged.

Overall financial health: Slightly less than one-third -- some 29 percent -- said their overall financial health was better this year than last, while one-fifth of those surveyed said it was worse. Almost half of respondents -- 49 percent -- said they were in the same overall economic position now as they were at this time last year.

Indeed, the one area that showed a sharp decline was in savings. While half said they were no more or less comfortable with the amount they had saved, some 32 percent said they were less comfortable with their savings versus 17 percent who said they were more comfortable with the amount they had saved.

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