A Pitney Bowes Business Insight study (read it here) recently revealed the savings and spending habits of residents by state. Among the findings, it indicated that New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts are the top states with the most money amassed in checking and savings accounts. In fact, the average consumer savings balance in these states exceeds the national average by 20-30%. On the contrary, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona rank as the states with the smallest average consumer savings balances. (Learn how to trace where your tax dollars and charitable donations are going. Refer to Navigating Government And Nonprofit Financial Statements.)
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While one can make plenty of arguments for this statistic (salaries on the East Coast tend to be higher as there are more corporations and therefore more professional job opportunities), the fact remains that residents of these states make up for it in the form of higher costs of living and tax burdens. So what might cause these states to have a handle on the importance of savings while others fall short?
According to the Pitney Bowes Business Insight study, New Jersey residents have an average of $7,477 in consumer savings accounts. Their savings savvy might be due in part to a job market that has picked up pace slightly quicker than in other states. Dr. Charles Steindel, chief economist of the New Jersey Department of Treasury, recently released the March/April 2011 edition of the "New Jersey Economics Insights" newsletter. In it, he stated, "the level of private employment last month was 17,200 higher than in February 2010." This is a figure which represented the, "largest such gain since early 2008." The Bureau of Labor Statistics released data on April 1, 2011, indicating that national unemployment dropped to 8.8% in March 2011, bringing unemployment down to rates not seen since early 2009.
Presence of jobs in the historically well-paying pharma/biotech industry might play a role in resident's ability to save as well. New Jersey accounts for roughly 7.5% of national jobs in the pharma/biotech industry. Dr. Steindel reported that these industries accounted for New Jersey resident's salaries totaling more than $4.5 billion in 2009, and that New Jerseyans' earnings were more than 10% of the national total in these sectors, averaging around $100,000.
However, property taxes paid to local municipalities in the state are among the highest in the country.
It's also possible that New Jersey savings balances are higher because they are at a loss for college savings options. The state has one of the worst 529 college savings plans in the nation.
The state of Connecticut enjoys the highest per capita income in the country, so it may not seem all that surprising that it ranks second in deposit balances. However, Connecticut's cost of living is 14.4% higher than the U.S. average, and state taxes, fuel and utility costs rank near the top. Forbes reported that the state's income taxes on individuals are the highest in the country, collecting $3,145.82 per person. How are Connecticut residents building savings?
Perhaps it has something to do with financial education, thanks in part to vigilance by the state government. The Connecticut Department of Banking exists to "protect users of financial services from unlawful or improper practices by requiring that regulated entities and individuals adhere to the law." It's also active in about personal finance and investment education. Regulatory bodies offers residents a toll-free number they can call to find detailed information about their broker, adviser or an investment before handing over any money. It is also a partner of the "America Saves Week" put on by the Consumer Federation of America. This event aims to promote personal savings and improve financial education.
Massachusetts comes in third as the state with the highest savings despite being home to Boston, which has been called one of the priciest cities in America. High salaries aren't to blame for the savings balances in this state. SimplyHired estimated "the median income of households in Boston is $42,562."
Perhaps residents of Massachusetts are motivated to save by their tax law, which allows for tax exemption of interest on savings in Massachusetts banks of up to $100 or $200 on a joint return. (U.S. bailouts date all the way back to 1792. Learn how the biggest ones affected the economy. Read Top 6 U.S. Government Financial Bailouts.)
The Bottom Line
As these states prove, salaries and savings are not directly related, and often a high salary can be offset by a high cost of living. Further, research has shown that more money doesn't necessarily equate to more savings, and income levels do not preclude one from starting to save. "Developing a savings plan is key to reaching your savings goals," said Ken McDonnell, Director, American Savings Education Council. One of the most popular approaches is an automatic savings plan that transfers a bit of money of each month to a savings account. You can implement this plan no matter what state you live in.