According to a new analysis of Federal Reserve and FDIC data by Magnify Money, the median American household has around $11,700 in savings between bank accounts and retirement savings - meaning 50% of Americans have less than $11,700 in savings, and 50% have more. The average American household, however, has saved $175,510 - a vastly different figure.
This data is largely meaningless from 10,000 feet...
The disparity between median and average savings can be explained by math; the ultra-rich, who are essentially outliers, skew the average higher - while the median figure is the midpoint between all savers.
In other words, while headlines quoting averages suggest that savings rates for all Americans are improving dramatically thanks to recent upward revisions - the reality is that most of the gains have gone to the top.
Because of this, it's far more useful to look at savings rates through certain "demographic prisms" such as age and income - at which point the data becomes much more relevant. To that end, Magnify Money's Chris Horymski puts things in perspective. From his analysis we learn:
- The median top 1% of households by income have $1.15 million in savings, while over 50% of low-income households have no savings.
- The median baby boomer household and those born before 1946 has roughly $97,120 saved, while the median GenXer has $43,000. Millennials have a median savings of just $9,230.
In looking at the charts below, the "median vs. average" skew can even be observed even within "demographic prisms":
- The average top 1% of households have roughly $2.5 million saved, while the average savings among the bottom 20% of earners sits at $8,720 - clearly not reflecting the fact that over half of low-income households actually have no savings at all.
- Meanwhile, the average boomer household has saved $380,000, while the average GenXer has $165,000 and millennials have just $34,000.
Average and Median Savings Levels by Income
[A]lthough the average American household has saved roughly $175,000 in various types of savings accounts, only the top 10%-20% of earners will likely have savings levels approaching or exceeding that amount. Indeed, and as the chart shows, the bottom 40% of American households are more likely than not to have any savings whatsoever. Conversely, the top 10% of the population by income is likely to have many times the national household savings average.
Similarly, millennials will have saved less than boomers, as the latter has had a 35-year head start, among other factors. Currently, the average boomer has roughly 11 times the amount saved as the average millennial. -Magnify Money
Average and Median Savings Levels by Age
Indeed, some 50.8 million households - or around 43% of households can't afford the basics; housing, food, health care, child care, transportation and a monthly phone bill, according to government data analyzed by the United Way Alice Project.
The United Way Alice Project uses standardized measurements to calculate the “bare bones” household budget in each county in each state. It maintains that the federal poverty level — currently $25,100 for a family of four — doesn’t accurately illustrate the number of people living in poverty because it doesn’t take into account the dramatically different costs of living across the U.S. “It is morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable for our country to have so many hard-working families living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. -Marketwatch
That said, people are saving more, however less money has been going into lower-yielding Certificates of Deposit (CDs), while more has gone into liquid Money Market and Passbook / Savings accounts:
But that growth isn’t going into CDs. There’s nearly $1 trillion less in CDs in 2018 than 10 years ago, while the amount of savings in both traditional and money market deposit accounts has increased by more than $2 trillion in each category. -Magnify Money
As illustrated in the chart below, the popularity of CDs has waned as banks paid relatively little interest for all CDs, even those with longer maturities. For much of the past decade, the average yield for locking up savings in 1-year CD barely exceeded the average yield on a money market account, which is more liquid than a CD. -Magnify Money
When it comes to duration, long term CDs haven't yielded much more until recently, lagging the Fed's rate hikes by about a year.
And as Marketwatch's Quentin Fottrell notes, people have been hoarding money since the Great Recession - going from an average of $1,000 in checking accounts to more than $3,700.
When times are good, Americans feel confident by keeping little in checking, but when times are difficult they store money in checking accounts, pulling back on spending on retail and restaurants. Michael Moebs, economist and Chief Executive of Moebs Services, said this may be a cause for concern at a time when the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, making it more difficult to buy a home, but creating more of an incentive to put money into savings accounts. The one obvious upside: Many investors have enjoyed gains in a 113-month bull market, the longest in history. -Marketwatch
In short, don't let average figures fool you.