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American Personal Saving Rate Statistics through 2012

Personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income: 4.9% (Q3 2013)

Table of Contents

  1. How is personal saving calculated?
  2. How has it trended?
  3. What are the components of personal saving?
  4. How does savings compare to debt?
  5. Sources

How is personal saving calculated?

+Your income/wages (paycheck)

+Benefits (e.g., contributions to 401K, social security, medicare, etc)

+ Other income (rental income, investment income, etc)

LESS

- Personal taxes

- Spending (cars, clothes, rent)

- Interest on debt (student loans, credit card, mortgage)                               

= Personal saving

How has it trended?

The American personal saving rate (total personal saving as a % of disposable personal income, i.e. income less taxes) has declined from a recent high point of 5.4% in 2008 to 4.7% in the 4th quarter of 2012. Savings appeared to get a boost at the onset of the economic crisis, however while the most recent number is markedly improved from 2005’s dismal 1.5%, a return to a downward trend now seems plausible.

In addition to a lower saving rate, Americans also reported less likelihood of saving at all, as well as lower net worth:

  • Fewer families reported having saved in the preceding year.  52.0% of families reported saving in 2010, compared to 56.4% in 2007.
  • Median net worth, adjusted for inflation, decreased by $49,100 from 2007 to 2010, likely due to decreased value of investment assets.

What are the components of personal saving?

Retirement accounts, investment funds, stocks, and transaction accounts (checking, savings, etc.) combined hold the majority of American’s financial assets. In particular, retirement accounts such as 401k plans and IRA accounts will become increasingly crucial as Social Security benefits may shrink for future generations.

Though approximately half of all families report to hold some assets in a retirement account in 2010 (see below table), they may be harder to attain than they once were. In the same year, just 35.1% owned a retirement account available through a current or past job. This means more people must seek retirement planning options on their own, and fewer are receiving valuable employer contributions as a benefit.

2010 Statistics

Financial Asset Financial Asset Value (% of Total) % of American Families Holding Asset Type Median Value of Assets*
Transaction Accounts 13.3% 92.5% $3,500
Retirement Accounts 38.1% 50.4% $44,000
Cash Value Life Insurance 2.5% 19.7% $7,300
Stocks 14.0% 15.1% $20,000
Certificates of Deposit 3.9% 12.2% $20,000
Savings Bonds 0.3% 12.0% $1,000
Pooled Investment Funds 15.0% 8.7% $80,000
Other 2.3% 8.0% $5,000
Other Managed Assets 6.2% 5.7% $70,000
Bonds 4.4% 1.6% $137,000

*For families holding that type of asset

How does savings compare to debt? 

If you’re not saving, you’re spending.  Americans as a whole owe trillions in mortgages, student loans and credit card debt combined. The average household credit card debt alone stands at over $7,000 (and more than twice that when averaging over just the indebted households).

The graph below shows how revolving consumer credit (i.e. credit card debt) as a percentage of disposable personal income has risen over the years, overtaking the personal saving rate in the early 90’s. More recently, however, these levels have begun to decline.

The debt service ratio (DSR), which is the ratio of debt payments on outstanding mortgage and consumer debt to disposable personal income, has followed a similar trend. The graph below shows a gradual decline since 2007.

So while Americans are facing less debt than in past years, they also appear to be saving less and less.

What might be causing this anomaly? One theory is that consumers are using less credit because it simply isn’t as accessible as it was prior to the recent economic downturn, in which case dipping into savings is a possible alternative. Low savings yields offered by banks and credit unions across the country may also be partly to blame. With the average rate for a savings account dipping below 0.15% nationally, many would-be savers aren’t likely feeling incentivized to sit on their cash.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Commerce: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Federal Reserve: Survey of Consumer Finances

Federal Reserve: Consumer Credit Outstanding

Federal Reserve: Household Debt Service and Financial Obligations Ratios