Although the numbers have gotten better in recent years, many Americans would not be able to pay off their credit cards in an emergency, as they do not have enough in their emergency savings accounts to do so even if they needed to.

Conventional wisdom holds that a family in Florida should have between three and six months of savings in an easily accessible account. This prevents a family from being surprised by a sudden financial crisis, like losing a job or facing a sudden medical problem or automobile or home repair.

About 1 in 5 Americans say that their emergency fund would be more than eaten up in credit card debt were they forced to pay off the balance of the card all at once. An additional 12 percent of those who responded to a recent survey indicated that while they do not have a credit card balance, they also do not have an emergency fund.

While these numbers are not particularly encouraging, they are better than the past two years. In both 2017 and 2016, over 40 percent of respondents indicated that they did not have a large enough emergency fund to pay off their credit card bills.

The alternative to having an emergency fund is that a family will have to either hang on to credit card debt because of an emergency or, in the worst cases, even increase the balance on the card to meet additional expenses. In these sorts of situations, a family may have little choice but to consider bankruptcy as an option for getting a fresh start.

Source: USA Today, “33% of Americans do not have more savings than credit card debt,” David Carrig, Feb. 22, 2018.