Americans' top 5 financial fears -- Which scares you the most?

What personal-finance issue keeps you awake at night? Are you worried about not having enough retirement savings, or something more immediate like losing your job? Chances are good that many other Americans feel the same way as you do.

With that in mind, here are Americans' top five financial fears, according to WalletHub's 2017 Halloween Spending and Financial Fear survey, and what you can do to set your mind at ease.

Americans' top five financial fears

According to WalletHub's survey, which asked over 530 Americans what financial topics frighten them the most, these were the top five responses:

Financial Fear

% of Respondents

Unplanned emergency

26%

Not enough retirement savings

26%

Job loss

20%

Fraud

11%

Poor credit

7%

Data source: WalletHub.

Now, some financial challenges -- specifically, job loss -- aren't totally in your control. For instance, you can't always foresee a layoff coming or prevent one from occurring. However, most of these fears can be prepared for. Here are some statistics that show why Americans may fear these things, and what you can do about it if you're worried about them.

RELATED: 50 common expenses you need to stop wasting your money on: 

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50 everyday expenses you need to stop spending money on
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50 everyday expenses you need to stop spending money on
ATM fees

"Take a bit of extra time to withdraw money from your bank's ATM and save on the cost to withdraw your own cash or if your bank has a mobile app, use it to find an in-network ATM near you."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Lottery tickets

"According to the Powerball, the odds hitting the jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338.00, and CNN cites that Americans spent $70.15 billion in 2014. Let's save our hard-earned money."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Coffee

"A daily cup of joe adds up if you purchase it at places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. Save by brewing at home."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Credit card interest

"Maintaining a balance on your card usually you to pay interest each month. Try to pay off your credit card balance in full each month or send more than the minimum payment. As always, use your credit cards responsibly."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Kids meals when dining out

"When you do dine out and if you have kids with you, be sure to take advantage of 'kids eat free' specials. Most restaurants have specific days of the week when they offer free kids meals."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Gas station food and snacks

"Although it may be convenient, prices are always marked up when compared to other stores. So take the time to shop for food in advance at your grocery store and pack emergency snacks in your car."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Pumping premium gas

"Some vehicles may not require premium gas, which is the most costly of the gasoline grades. Stop trying to be fancy, check the owner's manual, and save."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Banking fees

"Don't pay to manage your money at a bank. Find banks that offer free banking or bank online for free like CapitalOne 360. Earn $25 when you open a free checking or high-yield savings account."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Change-counting machines

"Many of us like to keep our loose change in a jar and let it collect over time. Once it's full, don't pay machines to count it for you, go to your bank to deposit your savings or have it exchange for cash."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Wasting gas due to low tire pressure

"You may not know this, but having low tire pressure affects your mileage significantly. Save gas and money by improving your gas mileage by simply checking your tire pressure and maintaining it at the proper level."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Single car washing

"Many car wash places offer a flat monthly rate for unlimited washes, so check with your local car wash to find out if they offer a monthly rate and cash in on a clean car. Or, you can get a discount when you pump your gas."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Bottled water

"Unless you live in an area where potable water isn't safe, don't waste your money on bottled water. Often times, it's simply bottled tap water. Buy a reusable water bottle or invest in a quality water filter, and save (plus you'll reduce plastic waste)."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Cigarettes

"It's a tough addiction to beat, but it is a very expensive to purchase cigarettes daily. Aside from causing deadly health effects, according to Time, smoking can cost you $1 to $2 million in a lifetime. Make an effort to better your health and wallet."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Gift bags and wrapping

"Reuse bags from previous occasions if they are still in good condition. We started doing this last year and no longer have to run out and by $3+ gift bags when we go to events or parties."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Plastic bags fees

"For those living in an area where stores charge for plastic bags (*cough cough Chicago*), bring your own reusable one. Those cents add up!"

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Utility bill payment fees

"Skip the line at the currency exchange or grocery store and pay online using checking account or debit card. Some companies charge to use a debit card, so schedule e-check payment, which is typically free."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Travel size toiletries

"For the frequent traveler, you should buy empty travel containers and refill with shampoo, lotion, etc. as needed."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Paper

"Unless you're a student, you probably don't really need to buy a lot of paper – reuse already printed pages and use both sides."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Magazine and newspaper subscriptions

"Save money and paper by keeping up with free online news services."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Paying for premium streaming music services

"In the digital age of music, don't pay for premium services. Streaming companies like SoundCloud and Spotify allow you to listen to music for free."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying books

"If you'd like to truly own a book, then save on the paper and extra cost by purchasing the digital version, or go to your local library and check them out for free."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Library late fees

"Remember to return all materials on time. It'll save you money and allow for other library patrons to enjoy the material in a timely manner. If you do have library fees, wait for a month when they accept canned goods as a payment method (usually around the holidays)." 

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Brand new video games

"Skip the early release and commotion of having the latest video game. Save major bucks by purchasing a used version of the game online or at stores like Game Stop."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

In-app purchases

"Gaming apps are meant to entertain, and while most of them are free, don't fall for the "purchase bonus lives" trap. In-game purchases add up."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Greeting cards

"Take some time to make your own personal cards or send an eCard and skip on the expense."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

New phone chargers

"If you forget your charger and your phone needs to be charged, some time you'll be inclined to purchase a new one, but it can be costly or even poor quality. Always keep your charger handy, look for a charging station where you're at, or simply ask to borrow one."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Expiration dates

"Sometimes, expiration dates may not reflect the true shelf life of a product. Don't waste food (and money) by throwing out a product which may still be fine to consume. Check out Eat By Date and see for yourself the true shelf life of your groceries."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Stuff on your birthday

"When you're heading out and can't or don't want to drive, consider calling Uber or Lyft instead of calling a cab so you can save money on the ride. You can use my linkto get $20 off your first Uber ride."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Batteries

"Save on disposable batteries and purchase rechargeable ones. They can last up to two to three years."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Pens

"Many offices, banks, insurance companies, etc, give them away for free. Save them and skip on the purchase."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Insurance

"Be sure to get the best rate for your individual needs, whether it is car, health, home or life insurance."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Garbage bags

"If your area doesn't charge for using plastic bags, reuse the ones you get from shopping as garbage bags. I do this all the time."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

More house than you need

"While some families "grow into" their homes, sometimes less is more. Save on mortgage and the possibility of purchasing more for a larger home. Downsize and save."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Club/bar full cover charges

"While having a spontaneous night out is fun, if you RSVP when possible, arrive early, or take advantage of online ticket sales, you can skip out on paying in full at your favorite nightlife places."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Leaky faucets

"If you pay for water utility bill, according to the EPA, fixing leaky faucets saves you 10% on your bill. By ignoring it, you not only lose money every day it goes unfixed, but you also waste clean water, at a rate of 10,000 gallons per year."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Fast food restaurants

"Improve your health and wallet by not eating fast food often. It may be cheap, but it adds up, especially if you eat out a few times per week. Instead, spend the money and the time to grocery shop and prepare meals."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Cool drafts

"Save on heating and electric bills by fixing drafts and keep the warmth and cool in your home during the winter and summer."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Unnecessary data phone plans

"Unless you need unlimited data for work, you should not spend much on your cell phone bill. I save a ton of money on my cell phone bill by using Republic Wireless."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Pet food

"You may not be able to cut out this expense completely if you have pets, but you can score free cans of pet food with coupons occasionally so you won't have to spend as much."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying lunch

"Sometimes you're running late for work and don't have time to pack a lunch. Buying lunch often costs much more than preparing and bring a meal to work. Spend some time planning, purchasing and preparing meals ahead of time so they're ready to go, even when you're in a hurry."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Leaving electronics plugged in

"Even though you may not use them often, electronics that are plugged in still consume energy. Unplug appliances you don't you often and keep other electronics on a power strip, turning them off when not in use."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Prepared grocery store meals

"When you do go grocery shopping, sometimes the already-prepped sub or diced fruits and veggies tempt you to buy them and save time, but you'll be paying top dollar for those products. Plan a list ahead of time and buy the individual food items, then spend the time prepping them yourself in order to save.

If you have trouble making grocery lists and figuring out what you're going to eat each day, I'd highly recommend trying out the $5 Meal Plan so you can receive healthy meal plans and recipes to your inbox."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Vending machine snacks

"Not only are these snacks typically unhealthy (there goes your healthy habit), they are typically much more expensive than their grocery store counterparts. If you find yourself buying vending machine snacks, try to save the money instead and see how much you have leftover at the end of the month. You can probably invest it."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Transportation

"When you're heading out and can't or don't want to drive, consider calling Uber or Lyft instead of calling a cab so you can save money on the ride. You can use my link to get $20 off your first Uber ride."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Brand name items

"Save money by skipping on the brand names, like medicine, toiletries, and certain foods. Remember that healthier options with fewer additives may cost more and in that case they may be worth it. Otherwise, generic is the way to go."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Buying smaller/single packs

"Save money by skipping on the brand names, like medicine, toiletries, and certain foods. Remember that healthier options with fewer additives may cost more and in that case they may be worth it. Otherwise, generic is the way to go."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Purchasing paper towels/paper napkins

"You are purchasing these to eventually throw them out. Save on the waste and save money by buying reusable, washable towels and napkins. Your wallet and the environment will thank you."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Paying extra for night time movie showings

"Primetime showings are typically 2x higher than those during the day. Go to morning matinees or take advantage of weekly specials ($5 movie nights during the week)."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

Movie theater food

"Often times, movie theater food can cost more than the ticket to get in. Try to keep food purchases to a minimum when you can or eat a filling meal before you go see a movie."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

DVDs and On Demand

"Instead of spending money on purchasing the movie, subscribe to streaming services and find an alternative or go to your local library."

Credit: My Debt Epiphany

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Unplanned emergencies

It's easy to understand why an unplanned emergency is at the top of the list of Americans' financial fears. According to a Bankrate survey, nearly six in 10 Americans couldn't cover an unexpected $500 expense without selling something or borrowing the money.

Experts generally suggest that an ideal emergency fund contains about six months' worth of living expenses in a readily accessible place like a savings account. While this may seem like a daunting task, you don't need to get there right away. If you get paid biweekly and can set aside just $50 per paycheck, you'll have an emergency cushion of $1,000, putting you in better shape than most Americans.

Better yet, automate the process. Even if you can't spare much out of each paycheck, set up an automatic transfer so that you never even see the money and it goes straight into your emergency savings account. You may be surprised at how quickly your savings builds up.

Lack of retirement savings

This is another legitimate fear. The average American's retirement savings is $95,776, according to the Economic Policy Institute. For pre-retirees (56-61 years old), the average is $163,577. This may sound like a large amount of money, and it is in an immediate sense, but not in terms of a nest egg that will need to last the rest of your life.

So how much will you really need? It depends on a few factors. Experts generally suggest that you'll need about 80% of your pre-retirement income to sustain your lifestyle, and the average person can expect about half of this to come from Social Security. For a rough calculation of your retirement number, try this quick exercise:

  • First, think of how much you spend in the average month. Be sure to include your mandatory expenses such as your housing payment and utilities, as well as your discretionary spending. Be realistic. Multiply this amount by 80% (0.8).
  • Next, subtract $1,400 from this amount, which is the average Social Security benefit. If you're married and your spouse works as well, subtract twice this amount.
  • Multiply the remaining amount by 12. This is how much you'll need each year from your savings, and remember that you'll need to adjust for inflation in future years.
  • Multiply this by 25. That's about how much you'll need for retirement to generate adequate income based on the frequently used 4% rule of retirement.

If you've fallen behind, now could be a smart time to increase your 401(k) contributions or start contributing to an IRA. Your investment dollars will never have more long-term compounding power than they do right now, so the sooner you act, the better off you'll be.

Fraud

This is a broad term and could mean a number of things. Identity theft is one concerning form of fraud that can wreak havoc on your financial life, and it's an especially alarming possibility in the wake of the recent Equifaxdata breach. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft if you're worried about it, such as freezing your credit and regularly monitoring your credit reports.

Tax fraud is another major worry for many Americans, and it comes in several forms. It can take the form of a fraudulent tax return filed in your name to claim a bogus tax refund, or it can refer to a tax collection scam whereby a criminal impersonates the IRS to collect money you don't owe. Tax fraud can generally be avoided by filing your return promptly at the beginning of the year, and by knowing what the IRS will and will not do to collect a legitimate tax debt.

Poor credit

It's no surprise that this was low on the list. The average American has a FICO credit score of 700, well into the realm of "good credit."

There's no magic formula to achieving good credit. By paying your bills on time, keeping your credit card balances low, and only applying for credit when you truly need it, it isn't too difficult to get good credit.

If you already have poor credit and need to do some damage control, be sure to check out some of my colleague Jordan Wathen's suggestions that can help speed up the process of repairing your credit.

Conquer your fears

The bottom line is that millions of Americans do have legitimate reasons to be concerned about these personal-finance topics, but many of the fears can be conquered with some smart financial moves. For example, if you need to build up emergency savings, try implementing an automated savings method, as I described. Or if you're worried about retirement savings, try increasing your 401(k) contributions by 1% or 2% of your salary. You may be surprised at the long-term effect that seemingly small changes can have.

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