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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

You're better off than the average American if you can come up with this much cash

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Politics,Finance and Banking,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Budgets and Deficits,Consumer Confidence

If you have $400 to spare, count yourself lucky: Half of Americans would have trouble raising that amount in an emergency, according to a new report that suggests that many U.S. families face surprising financial difficulties.

Overall, Americans appear to be doing well, according to the survey released Thursday by the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, the first of its kind. Sixty percent of respondents said they were "doing okay" or "living comfortably," compared to just 13 percent who said they were struggling. Because this was the first iteration of the survey, it's unknown how that ratio has changed over the course of the recovery from the financial crisis.

But some of the details of the report indicate that a large number of Americans struggle with common financial situations — or at least say they do.

Only 48 percent said that they could easily handle an emergency expense of $400 without running a balance on their credit card. Almost a fifth said they simply could not come up with the funds, and a similar share said they would have to take on credit card debt. Others said they would either have to sell something (9 percent), ask a family member or friend for help (12 percent), or turn to a payday lender (4 percent) to come up with the money.

The survey also captured some of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis. Thirty-five percent of Americans still felt they were doing worse in late 2013, when the survey was conducted, than they were in 2008. One in five Americans postponed a major life decision because of the crisis. The biggest delayed decision was buying a house, which it appears almost one in 10 people did. Smaller percentages also delayed moving, getting married and having kids.

The Fed report also uncovered significant differences in perceptions about finances and credit by race and ethnicity. While nearly 60 percent of whites are confident they could qualify for a home loan today, only about 40 percent of blacks and Hispanics felt the same way. The disparities were even worse for other kinds of loans.

The central bank conducted the survey, the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, to provide a "snapshot of the financial and economic well-being of U.S. households" and supplement its other surveys of consumer finances. The survey had 4,134 respondents.

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