Savings Index Review: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Didn’t Save Any Money in 2021, But Consumers Faring Better Financially

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Updated on Monday, January 3, 2022

As 2022 arrives, many Americans are putting together their financial plans for this year. Some new economic challenges arose in 2021 as inflation — caused partly by pandemic-related supply constraints — increased the value of goods by almost 7% over the past year. On the other hand, child tax credits and a pause on student loan payments helped boost household budgets in 2021.

According to the latest MagnifyMoney Savings Index, 39% of Americans added to their savings in December, while 20% withdrew money — a sign that Americans are building their nest eggs.

However, some people are finding it difficult to save money at all. MagnifyMoney also used this Savings Index to look back at 2021, finding that 18% contributed $0 to their savings in the past year, while another 48% contributed less than $5,000.

For those Americans who keep their money in savings or checking accounts, the new year could bring better APYs — and additional incentives to save.

Key findings

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans didn’t save any money in 2021. However, most consumers (48%) were able to put away as much as $5,000 in the past year.
  • At the monthly level, men were more likely than women to save money each month during 2021. Most recently in December, 47% of men added to savings, compared with 31% of women.
  • Overall in December, 39% of Americans added money to savings, while 20% withdrew funds. That’s much better than in December 2020, when 33% saved money and 25% withdrew it.
  • Looking wider at withdrawals, fewer Americans pulled money from their savings in 2021 than in 2020. The percentage of Americans who withdrew funds from savings never surpassed 20% in any month in 2021, versus seven different months in 2020.
  • In 2022, about 30% plan to open a new savings account. But only 8% of Americans in 2021 kept most of their savings in a high-yield savings account, so consumers interested in opening an account should ensure they’re getting the best rates possible.

18% of Americans didn’t save money in 2021

While a stronger labor market and an early stimulus check (officially known as an economic impact payment) helped many Americans contribute to their savings over the past year, a significant part of the population was unable or unwilling to save their money.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents say they saved $5,000 or less in 2021 — but almost 1 in 5 (18%) say they didn’t save any money at all.

Of those Americans who didn’t save money in 2021, more came from older generations. In fact, 22% of Gen Xers (ages 41 to 55) and 21% of baby boomers (ages 56 to 75) didn’t save, compared with 16% of millennials (ages 25 to 40) and 14% of Gen Zers (ages 18 to 24).

Those with lower annual household incomes also tended to save less: 32% of respondents who made less than $35,000 didn’t save money in 2021, compared with just 4% of those who made $100,000 or more. By region, the Pacific — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — had the highest percentage of people who didn’t save (23%), while the Middle Atlantic — New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — had the lowest (15%).

Lastly, there was a substantial gender gap among those who didn’t save money, as more than twice as many women (24%) didn’t save as men (11%).

Men saved more money than women in December

In each month of 2021, men saved money more often than women, but that gap increased in December. Last month, 47% of men saved money, while just 31% of women did — that percentage point difference was the highest since February 2021, as tracked in the Savings Index.

Notably, the percentage of men and women who withdrew money from their savings in December was the same (20%).

Among December survey respondents, significantly more women (25%) than men (11%) reported having no savings. Those percentages track almost identical with the rate of people, by gender, who didn’t save any money at all in 2021.

Consumers fared better financially in December 2021 than a year ago

Even as inflation eats into the real value of Americans’ savings, almost twice as many people saved money (39%) than those who withdrew money from their savings (20%).

While seasonality and holiday spending may play a factor in the relative increase of those who withdrew money, those numbers still represent more savings and fewer withdrawals than in December 2020 (33% saved, 25% withdrew).

Gen Z respondents were more likely to save (48%), but they also were more likely to withdraw money (26%) than older generations. Just 13% of Gen Zers reported neither adding nor withdrawing money from their savings accounts in December, compared with 17% of millennials, 25% of Gen X and 31% of baby boomers.

General savings, emergencies top list of reasons to save

Respondents most often report general savings as the reason they’re saving money, and December was no exception. Other common reasons to save money include emergencies, retirement and vacation and holiday expenses.

Savings priorities change substantially for those who have children younger than 18. Compared to those whose children are all 18 or older, parents with kids younger than 18 tend to save more for a new house (20% versus 6%), holiday spending (23% versus 10%) and a new car (20% versus 9%). On the other hand, slightly more people who don’t have young kids saved for retirement (23%) than those who do (22%). Of course, those with children younger than 18 may have received additional child tax credit payments in 2021, which could have helped boost their savings.

The savings gender gap is also present in the individual savings categories, though women did contribute more (30%) to emergency savings funds in December than men (28%). The only other category in which more women than men contributed to savings was medical procedures (6% versus 5%).

The categories in which there was the biggest gap between men and women were:

  • Retirement: 24% of men, 18% of women
  • Vacation: 20% of men, 15% of women
  • New house: 16% of men, 12% of women

29% of Americans plan to open a savings account in 2022

There are many reasons why someone might choose to open a new savings account. Maybe they don’t have one yet and would like to earn a little bit of interest on their nest egg, or perhaps they’d like a separate account for a specific savings goal, like a honeymoon or a new car.

According to Savings Index respondents, 14% of Americans definitely plan to open a new savings account, and 15% probably will. Meanwhile, 17% of Americans definitely won’t open an account, and 26% probably won’t — that leaves 27% of Americans who are unsure if they’ll open a new savings account. Perhaps some of the savings account bonuses that banks offer may entice customers to open new accounts.

Many Americans keep their savings somewhere other than a traditional savings account. In fact, 45% report they use a regular savings account (another 8% keep their money in a high-yield savings account that probably pays better APYs), but there are some other spots that consumers keep most of their savings:

  • Checking account: 16%
  • Cash: 11%
  • Stock market: 7%
  • Money market account: 4%
  • Certificate of deposit (CD): 2%
  • Other: 8%

The new year could bring better interest rates for Americans who hold their savings in deposit accounts.

“It looks likely that deposit rates will rise in 2022,” says Ken Tumin, founder of DepositAccounts. “The Federal Reserve has accelerated its move toward Fed rate hikes in 2022. If 2022 Fed rate hikes take place, widespread deposit rate hikes should occur.”

Those interest rates could be an additional incentive for people to save.

Methodology

Every month, MagnifyMoney surveys consumers to find out whether they added money to their savings — and what they’re saving for. The results comprise the monthly MagnifyMoney Savings Index, which began in October 2019.

For the December 2021 edition, MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 2,100 U.S. consumers from Dec. 9 to Dec. 13, 2021. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Gen Zers: 18 to 24
  • Millennials: 25 to 40
  • Gen Xers: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomers: 56 to 75

While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (age 76 and older), the sample size was too small to include findings related to that group in the generational breakdowns.