In response to my recent ING Direct review and a discussion on emergency funds James asked a question in the comments, “How close should they be?” That’s a great question, and one I have asked myself since turning to online banking. A few online banks offer ATM card access, and a couple even reimburse ATM fees for withdrawals. However, the ING Direct Orange Savings account offers no such features. Transfers are handled online and take two or three business days to show up in either account. This presents a dilemma - what if I need access to my emergency savings today?
Start Local and Expand Later
We have decided to save $1,000 locally in a bank savings account, and anything we save above that we transfer to ING Direct. The interest on a bank savings account these days isn’t enough to buy my kid a pack of chewing gum, but I’m more concerned with accessibility.
Keeping a portion of your emergency fund locally provides quick access to at least the first $1,000 of our emergency fund in the event of a real emergency. This would be enough to cover the initial costs for most repairs, out-of-pocket medical care, etc. The remaining emergency funds would show up a couple days later for larger emergencies that required more than this “local emergency fund” could cover.
Select a Comfortable Level for You and Yours
I mentioned that I am not overly concerned with the interest rate on this local emergency fund. However, I do want to maximize any interest income potential with the larger, online emergency fund, so it makes sense to limit our local emergency savings fund to a specific amount. This minimum amount should be decided on by you and your family, not based on a recommendation from someone else. Around $1,000 works well for our family, but it may or may not work for yours, and that is fine.
In uncertain times it makes sense to save a little more. When your checking account has a healthy balance, perhaps you could save a little less. The point is to have something liquid, easily accessible, and local so you can avoid turning to credit cards in an emergency.
Couldn’t I Just Use an Emergency-Only Credit Card?
Sure, assuming you have the discipline to identify real emergencies, and pay off the bill using emergency fund savings when the bill arrives. I have fallen into the trap of using a credit card to finance an emergency with the self-promise to pay it off when I get the bill. The bill arrives, and I am reluctant to use such a large chunk of savings to pay if off in one payment, so I rationalize that I will pay it off over time since the credit card’s interest rate is low, or because I like having the safety net of cash in reserve. Now I am stuck with a revolving balance that with interest is causing that emergency to become more and more expensive with each billing cycle.
The only way to get off the never-ending hamster wheel of debt is to stop using credit cards and loans to finance life events. Create a local emergency fund to catch the small stuff, and a larger, fully-funded emergency fund online to save for life’s curveballs.