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By Megan Leonhardt
July 12, 2016
Neil Beckerman—Getty Images

It may be getting easier to make ends meet, but emergency and retirement savings remain out of reach for many Americans.

Despite improving employment and economic conditions since the 2008 financial recession, many Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck, according to the 2016 National Financial Capability Study conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, released Tuesday.

2016 National Financial Capability Study
Courtesy of FINRA

The study, which took data from multiple state surveys of more than 25,000 U.S. adults, found a third of Americans are very satisfied with their personal finances, up 15 percentage points from 2009. Additionally, almost half of those surveyed (48%) said it was not at all difficult to cover their monthly expenses and bills—up 12 percentage points from ’09.

And yet, despite an increasing ability to make their monthly nut, the number of Americans who are able and willing to save remains low. In fact, fewer than half of Americans spend less than they bring home, and about 18% spend more than they receive in their paycheck—a number that has remained fairly constant over the past seven years.

Even having some savings hasn’t been able to insulate many people from financial struggle. The study found that 23% of those who reported having retirement accounts have taken a loan or hardship withdrawal from that bucket over the past year. (Here’s what you need to know about borrowing from your 401(k) account.)

Younger Americans in particular are facing higher levels of financial stress. About 42% of those aged 18-34 report taking loans or hardship withdrawals over the past year. The study also found that about 26% of younger Americans have overdrawn their checking account over the past year, as opposed to just 16% of those over the age of 35.

When it comes to emergency savings, the study found that more than a third (34%) say they probably or definitely could not come up with $2,000 within the next month. Again, younger Americans had more trouble with unexpected short-term costs: Over half of millennials (57%) said they would have difficulty covering a $2,000 emergency. If you’re one of them, check out these nine steps to building up a cash cushion.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

Earning your trust is essential to our success, and we believe transparency is critical to creating that trust. To that end, you should know that many or all of the companies featured here are partners who advertise with us.

Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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