Publications Financial Security *Research Brief

Saving for a Rainy Day: Making it Easier for Employees to Build Emergency Savings

In this study, we examined Onward, an employer-based mobile app that enables workers to save via payroll deduction and receive financial education and coaching as a means to address financial challenges such as difficulty paying bills on time, managing debt, and accruing savings. An important feature of Onward is that employees can save automatically through payroll deducted savings deposits while still able to withdraw money should they need it.

We examined approximately 1,000 employees, of those that registered for and used Onward agreed to share their survey for evaluative purposes. Financial hardships among employees were common; over a third of employees said they had skipped medical care they needed due to cost and nearly a third had over-drafted a bank account. Over the course of the study period (September 2019 through May 2020), savings account activity was tracked across 18 pay periods. Over the 18 pay periods, registered employees saved an average of $462.54. Total net savings among employees, the amount deposited less the amount withdrawn, was $244.89. Both gross and net savings increased during COVID-19, from mid-March through May 2020. Gross savings increased by 14% while net savings increased by 68% during this period, reflecting a drop in withdrawal activity.


Despard, M., Zeng, Y., Kondratjeva, O., & Kristensen, K. (2020). Saving for a Rainy Day: Making it Easier for Employees to Build Emergency Savings (SPI Research Report No. 20-06). Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis.