It seems easy enough. You earn money, pay your bills and try to set something aside for yourself in a bank savings account.

Who knew this could be problematic?

The fact is, savings accounts may be popular and ubiquitous, but consumers still aren’t sure how much cash to stash away in them.

A 2007 survey by the Consumer Federation of America reports that only 40% of adult Americans maintain what the study describes as “emergency” savings accounts. In addition, approximately one-third of those savers have set aside less than $2,000 for that “inevitable rainy day.”

Usually, financial gurus recommend putting at least three to six months worth of living expenses into a bank savings account. So why are Americans lax in doing so? And what steps can be taken to improve our national savings habits?

Fear not. Here are a few guidelines to get you on the right path to future savings.

Aim for the 10% Rule. By and large, if you can put 10% of your monthly income away in your savings account, you’re doing a good job. Take special care to put the 10% into the account before you pay your bills. In other words, pay yourself first.

Reduce Your Debt, Then Use the “Savings” for Savings.
There’s no question that plowing more money into your bank account is a burden if you’re fighting things like credit card or student loan debt. Adopt a short- and long-term strategy here. Use the short term to pay off, or at least reduce your debt, and then when the debt is paid off, use the same amount of money you were paying in monthly debt payments to place into your bank savings account. Always try to move your savings upward. If you’ve been saving 5%, then aim for 10% in savings after your debt is retired. If 10%, aim for 15%. Since you’ve learned to live without the money, you’ll hardly notice it’s been stashed away at your banks.

Aim for Higher Interest. No matter how much money you’re saving with your bank, you can always do a little bit better by finding better interest rate deals. It may not seem like much, but interest rates can really beef up your bank account over the long term – and safely, too, considering that most bank savings accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for up to $250,000. A tip: use BankingMyWay’s Saving Rate Search tool to find the best savings account rates – either nationally, or near your community.

Other tips to get more money into your bank savings account include setting up an automatic savings deduction plan – so you don’t forget or neglect your savings account, and consider an online, high-yield bank savings account. Typically, interest rates on such accounts are significantly higher – 200 basis points or more in any instances – than traditional bank accounts.

Earmark more cash for your savings account and sit back and watch the money grow. It’s certainly a better scenario than keeping the money for spending and watching it evaporate.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at