) -- It's been tough sledding for millions of Americans over the past few years.

A sour economy has left way too many people either unemployed or underemployed, and that has helped push U.S. household incomes down by about 4.8%, according to data from

Sentier Research


Not only are incomes down, but so is the amount of money Americans have in their bank accounts. A survey from credit card comparison company

reports that 40% of U.S. consumers don't have more than $500 in their bank savings account.

CreditDonkey bills low bank savers as the "liquid asset poor." Most consumers in this category are only one missed paycheck away from poverty if they lose their job or suffer a major illness.

But it's not just consumers in the low-asset class category with meager bank savings.

The survey says the ranks of the low bank savers includes dual-income earners, with "nice homes, nice cars, nice toys, a 401(k) retirement savings plan, big mortgages and big credit card bills."

The survey also notes that 54% of the Americans who have less than $500 in their bank account expect that their financial situation won't change in the foreseeable future, and that they're unable to establish an emergency cash fund. In addition:

  • 45% of survey respondents say they may never be able to "save money."
  • 38% say they wont have enough money saved for retirement.
  • 14% are afraid of losing cash in the stock market.

The lack of a safety net leaves millions of Americans perilously close to financial ruin, the survey states.

"When the unexpected happens -- as it always does -- people without some savings set aside could find themselves in serious financial trouble, unwanted debt and sudden stress," notes Charles Tran, founder of

The company notes that stashing away money in an emergency fund isn't all that difficult - all it takes is some significant belt-tightening.

To build a good savings fund, consumers should:

  • Put your tax refund into the bank. There's no law that says you have to spend a tax refund. In fact, tax refunds are a rare opportunity for Americans to put a lump sum of cash into the bank for the proverbial rainy day.
  • Set up an automatic deduction from your paycheck. Have your bank establish an automatic deduction from your checking account into your savings account on payday. Aim for 10% of your paycheck. It may takes some getting used to, but after a few months you'll likely not even notice.
  • Keep paying debt, but to yourself. If you finish off paying a debt such as a car payment or a credit card debt, keep paying the same amount into your savings account. Again, you've already gotten used to living without the money, so you won't notice a big difference in your financial life, and you'll be padding your savings.

Nobody is saying it's easy, but building your savings is doable if you're disciplined and creative about it. The upside is huge, and you'll likely sleep better at night knowing you have your own insurance policy in case of an emergency -- and way more than $500 in the bank in the bargain.