An emergency fund is a special reserve of liquid or cash assets that you have saved to help you manage financially through an unforeseen emergency or life event. As we all know, life is unpredictable, so it’s important to plan ahead for those unexpected surprises that inevitably happen. You can create more financial security for yourself by knowing how much money you might need in the short-term to survive the sudden loss of your job, an unexpected injury or illness or even a large expense like a major car repair or emergency home maintenance. Transmission or engine trouble with your car can add up quickly, and needing a new roof or septic system for your house could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
What Is an Emergency Fund?
Remember that having an emergency fund is important throughout your lifetime, whether you are young or old —including your retirement years. Learn more about why you may need an emergency fund in retirement.
How Much Money Should You Have in an Emergency Fund?A good rule of thumb is to save between three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund. However, everyone’s financial situation is different, so you may want to save more than that. If you are self-employed and experience fluctuations in your monthly income or if you are married with several children — dependents who rely on you exclusively for income — it could be helpful to save nine to 12 months of living expenses, to give yourself some extra financial breathing room. The duration of living expenses is completely up to you. Because your emergency fund needs to remain liquid, it will most likely be earning a low interest rate (between 1% and 2% in a savings or money market account), which is often less than the rate of inflation (e.g., the rate of inflation in 2019 was 2.3%). You may be losing out on earning potential with money in your emergency fund because you don't have these assets invested in vehicles that might earn a higher rate of return — like a mutual fund consisting of stocks and bonds. Higher risk investments like mutual funds, however, run the risk of decreasing in value due to market fluctuations.
Some people make a distinction between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund. Generally, a rainy day fund contains a smaller sum of money, designed to help you pay for lesser expenses, like a trip to the veterinarian or a new tire for your car. Your emergency fund is a larger amount of cash set aside to provide income and help financially sustain you over a longer period of time.
Where Should You Keep an Emergency Fund?The key to where to invest your emergency fund money is liquidity. In case of an emergency, you want to be able to access your money quickly and easily. For this reason, putting your emergency fund money into a five-year certificate of deposit (CD) may not be the best choice because your assets would be locked into a long-term investment. In order to access the money in your CD before it matures, you may have to pay an early-withdrawal penalty. A better choice for an emergency fund may be a savings, interest-bearing checking or money market account. These accounts give you immediate access to your money, if and when you need it for an emergency. However, you also want to earn a little interest along the way — so a money market, which generally offers you a higher rate of interest than a savings or checking account, may be a good choice. Unlike CDs, savings, checking and money money market accounts don't have withdrawal fees associated with them since these account funds are liquid. Investing your emergency fund assets in higher-risk vehicles that may earn you higher rates of return, like stocks or mutual funds, makes your money less liquid and less accessible if you need it quickly.
Using This Emergency Fund Calculator
Based on your assumptions and financial inputs, our Emergency Fund Calculator estimates the amount of money you may need to save on a monthly basis or as a lump sum in order to accumulate your emergency fund goal over the selected period of time. A summary table outlines your emergency fund analysis, recommended savings and ratio analysis (living expenses/earned income and recommended savings/earned income).
An emergency fund graph shows the estimated growth of your emergency fund over time, with your monthly contributions and ending balances in different colors.
About Your InputsOur Emergency Fund Calculator asks you to complete a series of data fields about your emergency fund assumptions and monthly living expenses.
This section asks you about the financial assumptions you want to make regarding your emergency fund:
- Current gross monthly income – How much income do you earn each month (before taxes)? Enter the dollar amount here.
- Current emergency funds available – Have you saved any money up to now for your emergency fund? If so, enter the total here.
- Number of months for funds to last – How many months of living expenses do you want to save in your emergency fund? Enter the total number of months (between 1 and 360) here.
- Before-tax return on savings – What rate of return to you expect to earn on your emergency fund? Enter a percentage between -12% and 12%. A negative percentage indicates that you will lose money on your investment, while a positive percentage means you will make money.
- Marginal tax bracket – Indicate the percentage of federal taxes that you pay (between 0% and 75%). Refer to the 2020 federal taxable income brackets and rates chart (for tax returns due in April 2021) to determine this percentage.
- Number of months to accumulate funds – How long will you be saving money to put in your emergency fund? Enter the total number of months (between 1 and 360) here.
This section asks you about your expenses:
- Total monthly living expenses – How much money do you spend on living expenses each month? Enter the monthly dollar amount here. If you want to itemize your monthly expenses, leave this field at $0 and click the Or Itemize Monthly tab.
Or Itemize Monthly
This section asks you to list all your specific monthly expenses:
- Mortgage payment or rent – If you own a house or condominium, include your monthly mortgage payment. If you live in an apartment, enter your monthly rent amount.
- Vacation home mortgage – If you happen to have a second residence in another location, input your monthly mortgage payment for this property.
- Automobile loan(s) – Have you purchased a new car recently? Enter your monthly loan payment.
- Personal loan(s) – Have you assumed any personal loan debt to consolidate your credit card payments or make any major home improvements? If so, enter your monthly payment.
- Charge accounts – How much money do you pay off on your credit cards each month? Input this monthly total.
- Federal income taxes – Your income (salary, wages, tips, etc.) is taxed by the federal government. Your taxes to the U.S. Treasury are either withheld from your paycheck if you have an employer or are paid quarterly if you are self-employed. Figure out how much you pay monthly in federal income taxes and enter this amount.
- State income taxes – How much money in taxes do you pay on a monthly basis to the Treasurer of your state of residence? Enter this monthly total.
- FICA (Social Security taxes) – Your FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax helps pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits for retired Americans. If you have an employer, you pay half the FICA tax, and your employer pays the other half. Self-employed individuals are responsible for paying all of the FICA tax themselves, which is included in their quarterly tax estimate payments. Determine your monthly FICA tax and enter the amount in this field.
- Real estate taxes – Based on periodic property value assessments, annual real estate taxes are paid on any property you own. These taxes support different municipal services and levies, including zoos, parks, public education, libraries and social services for the elderly and disabled. Figure out how much real estate taxes you pay per month.
- Other taxes – Do you pay any additional taxes like estate taxes or capital gains taxes? Sales taxes would be included in this category as well. Enter your monthly total for any other taxes in this field.
- Utilities – These include your monthly bills for Internet, cable TV, water, gas and electric.
- Household repairs and maintenance – What have you spent per month over the last year on repairs (e.g., fixing a leaky roof) and routine maintenance (e.g., interior painting) for your home?
- Food – Everyone has to eat! What is your monthly grocery bill?
- Clothing and laundry – How much do you spend each month on brand new clothes and laundry/dry cleaning?
- Educational expenses – Total up costs for tuition, fees and room and board for members of your family, including yourself. How much do you spend per month?
- Child care – What is your monthly outlay for daycare and babysitting for your children?
- Automobile expenses (gas, repairs, etc.) – These expenses will vary depending on how much you travel and the age of your car. What do you spend each month to keep your car gassed up and ready to go?
- Other transportation expenses – Do you take public transportation on a regular basis? How often do you use ridesharing services? Do you spend money on public parking and toll roads? Add up your monthly miscellaneous transportation expenses
- Life insurance premiums – What do you spend each month in premiums for all of your life insurance (whole/term/universal) policies?
- Homeowners (renters) insurance – Homeowners insurance and renters insurance provide financial protection to cover the costs to replace your home and/or its furnishings in case of fire, flooding or theft. How much does your monthly premium cost?
- Automobile insurance – If you drive, you must pay for car insurance to cover potential medical costs for injured persons and auto repairs needed after an accident or collision. What is your monthly car insurance premium?
- Medical, dental and disability insurance – How much do you spend per month on health insurance and disability insurance premiums? These insurance policies are necessary to maintain your overall health and teeth and protect you financially in case of an accident that leaves you physically disabled
- Entertainment and dining – Relaxing and having fun are all part of maintaining a healthy work/life balance. What do you spend each month on going to restaurants and entertainment venues (comedy clubs, theaters, etc.)?
- Recreation and travel – Your monthly recreation and travel budget will depend on the relative expenses of your favorite activities. Hiking in your neighborhood park is much cheaper than flying to the mountains to go skiing. Total up your monthly expenses for these activities.
- Club dues – Do you belong to any clubs or pay membership fees on a regular basis? These costs might apply to health clubs, sports facilities, professional organizations or community groups.
- Hobbies – What do you spend each month enjoying your favorite hobbies? Your personal interests will dictate the size of your budget. For example, if you love music, guitars cost a lot less than pianos!
- Gifts – No one can escape gift-giving occasions — whether it’s around the holidays or time to celebrate someone’s birthday or wedding. Have you established a monthly budget for gifts?
- Major home improvements and furnishings – Is it time to gut the kitchen and perform a complete makeover? What about outdoor patio furniture for the fire pit? How much money do you spend each month to beautify your home?
- Professional services – Do you depend on any professionals for specialized services, like an attorney, financial advisor or exterminator? Think about how many professionals you pay and figure out how much they cost each month.
- Charitable contributions – How much money do you donate on a monthly basis to your favorite charities and non-profit organizations?
- Other and miscellaneous expenses – What monthly expenses haven’t you accounted for? Use this field to include any miscellaneous costs that don’t fit anywhere else – like digital streaming services and diapers.
About Your Results
After completing all your inputs, this Emergency Fund Calculator reveals how you can reach your emergency fund goal, either by saving a lump sum amount or through monthly contributions over the duration of time that you indicated. A summary table and graph provide additional information about your emergency fund.