According to a Bankrate's survey, 34 percent of American households experienced a major and unexpected expense over the past year.
But only 39 percent of those who were surveyed said they were able to actually cover a $1000 setback by dipping into their savings.
"While tapping savings to pay off an emergency was the most common response, more than a third of Americans would sink into one type of debt or another, potentially harming their financial security," Bankrate says in the report.
CNBC says that using a credit card was the second most popular answer, with 19 percent of respondents saying they'd deal with an emergency with plastic and pay it off over time.
The numbers aligned with respondents' annual incomes. "Lower range earners, those making less than $30,000 a year, were twice as likely to use some form of borrowing than savings, while households making more than $50,000 were more apt to use cash," Bankrate says.
A similar 2016 GOBankingRates survey found that 69 percent of Americans had less that $1000 in total savings and 34 percent had no savings at all.
The best way to combat a stressful and unexpected financial burden is to build up an emergency fund. However, that doesn't always take precedence as Americans focus on staying on top of bills, paying off debt and working toward other financial goals.
Even if you're in the red, it's still smart to put some money away. Personal finance expert Dave Ramsey says building a $1000 emergency fund is the first "baby step" toward getting free from debt.
"Car blows up. Transmission goes out. You bury a loved one. Grown kids move home again. Life happens, so be ready," Ramsey writes in "The Total Money Makeover." "This is not a surprise."
Building a olid emergency fund first is crucial because it prevents a twist in the track from completely derailing the journey, Ramsey explains.