A Trip to the Emergency Room | WBEZ
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How consumers deal with financial emergencies

Which of the following best describes how you would deal with an unexpected expense, like $1,000 for an emergency room visit or $500 to fix your car? That’s one of the questions a new study from Bankrate.com asks consumers about how they handle emergency expenses, and when they turn to credit.  

According to the study, only about 15 percent of those polled said they would use their credit cards as a financial Band-Aid.

Notes Price Fishback, a professor of economics at the University of Arizona and executive director of the Economic History Association, things could be worse. 

“I’m surprised how few people put it on their credit card, actually,” he said. “For a lot of people, they use credit cards almost routinely. I mean you go to the grocery store – what do you use? Do you pay cash typically? Or write a check?”

The different options for credit available now can influence how we save for emergencies.

“As alternative methods of getting credit — like credit cards, payday loans and other methods of getting credit — have increased over time, households have simply reduced their level of savings for emergencies," said Kent Smetters, a professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton. 

And you can see the data in Bankrate’s numbers. Only about a third of consumers said they would use savings to deal with an unexpected expense. Instead, 15 percent said they would borrow from friends and family, and 23 percent would cut back on other costs. Before the most recent economic dip, about 45 to 50 percent of households had adequate savings, Smetters said. 

"The recession," he said, "made it worse."

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