america saves weekIt's officially America Saves Week, but according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), far too many Americans aren't saving, and they're placing themselves at risk for a downward spiral of debt.

If you're an average American family, you only have about $10,000 in net financial assets -- and that includes the money you need to pay day-to-day bills and buy things like gas and groceries as well as pay for bigger things like the mortgage, car payments and credit card bills.

While the total savings rate has inched up a bit in the past few years, when we as a nation were literally spending more than we were saving, we still need to ramp up our savings efforts.
"I've been in the credit counseling business for over two decades," Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the NFCC, told WalletPop in an e-mail. "During that time, I have never heard anyone say that they've saved too much."

Far more common, Cunningham adds, is for people to be caught by unexpected expenses that drive them into debt. The average American family had $2,000 in unexpected expenses last year. That's a lot of cash, and if you're stuck putting that on a credit card and paying it back at 30 percent interest, that's a heavy financial burden.

So how much should you be saving? The NFCC's Cunningham recommends 10% of take-home pay, but even if you can only afford half of that -- or less -- there's no excuse not to start saving.

"Though the task of socking away three to six months' income is daunting, those who have recently lost their job are either glad they have that fall-back money or wish they did," Cunningham points out.

While three to six months' worth of expenses might sound like a lot, in today's economy, it could be the lifesaver that keeps you out of debt.

If you don't think you have the discipline to save money, there are a growing number of bank programs that will do the hard part -- that is, taking the money out of your account -- for you. WalletPop wrote in an earlier post about several different banks' offerings in this area.

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