Part of maintaining a balanced business budget is having a business emergency fund. Not only can it help businesses push through an uncertain economy, but it can also protect a business from financial challenges or unexpected expenses.

According to the Federal Reserve Banks’ 2022 Small Business Credit Survey, 94 percent of employer firms experienced a financial challenge within the previous 12 months. Of those, 81 percent cited the rising cost of goods, services or wages as their primary financial concern.

Businesses aren’t the only ones feeling the economic strain. Bankrate’s annual emergency savings report found that 63 percent of U.S. adults say inflation is causing them to save less money for unexpected expenses.

As many business owners invest personal funds into their businesses, a lack of savings can create personal and professional financial challenges, making a business emergency fund essential to a small business’s survival.

Key insights

  • 81 percent of Americans didn’t increase their emergency savings in 2023, with 60 percent of Americans feeling behind in this area. (Bankrate)
  • 53 percent of small business owners reported using personal funds in response to business financial challenges in 2022. (Federal Reserve Banks)
  • 63 percent of Americans do not think their personal financial situations will improve in 2024. (Bankrate)
  • In Q4 of 2023, 50 percent of small businesses cited inflation as one of their biggest challenges. (Small Business Index)

What is a small business emergency fund?

A small business emergency fund — sometimes called a contingency fund — is a stash of savings that a business draws from during an emergency or financial challenge. Ideally, a business emergency fund should be separate from a business checking or savings account. Examples of the expenses your emergency fund should cover are:

  • Rent or commercial mortgage payments
  • Utility bills
  • Inventory and raw materials
  • Business insurance
  • Business website and related costs, especially if your business is involved in e-commerce
  • Employee payroll and benefits
  • Debt repayments

Your emergency fund should cover at least three to six months of these expenses. If possible, saving 10 percent of your monthly revenue is recommended. But if that’s not achievable, starting small is okay. As your business revenue increases, you can save more to build up your emergency fund.

Why start a business emergency fund?

Every business needs an emergency fund for the unexpected, such as a downturn in the market, emergency equipment repairs or operational expenses.

Bankrate’s annual emergency savings report found that 66 percent of U.S. adults would be worried about having enough emergency savings to cover living expenses for the next month if they lose their primary source of income. Further, 22 percent of U.S. adults said they have no emergency savings.

Saving for emergencies can help reduce worry and stress for business owners. Here’s how an emergency fund can help your small business remain financially resilisent:

Protection against emergencies

As the name implies, a business emergency fund should help your business cover emergencies that arise. As an emergency is unexpected, it’s difficult to plan for in your business budget unless you keep an emergency fund.

Types of emergencies that can impact a small business include:

  • Natural disasters
  • Economic downturn or recession
  • Pandemics
  • Legal issues
  • Break-ins or theft
  • Damage to commercial equipment or property
Bankrate insight
The Small Business Index for Q4 of 2023 found that 50 percent of small businesses cite inflation as one of the biggest challenges they face.

Protection for assets and more stability

Emergency funds can help protect your business and personal assets. For example, if you have taken out a business loan, you may have signed a personal guarantee. Or you may have backed the loan by putting up business assets as collateral.

If you miss multiple payments or default on the loan, the lender could come after your business and personal assets to repay it. Your business and personal credit history can also take a hit if you miss payments due to a lack of funds. An emergency fund can help prevent that.

Easier cash flow management

Not having a business emergency fund can compare to living paycheck to paycheck. With an emergency fund, you can weather the economic ups and downs without putting additional strain on your business or personal finances. If your revenue comes in lower or an emergency crops up, you have the funds to cover operational expenses and keep your business running.

Less dependent on debt financing

Some business owners use a small business loan to help them through unexpected expenses or months of low revenue to cover operations.

While there isn’t anything wrong with having a business credit card or business loan that you responsibly manage, a business emergency fund means you’re less reliant on debt financing to cover emergencies. This can be beneficial in the long run, as using debt financing to cover emergencies can easily spiral out of control if your business can’t manage the repayments.

Assistance with time-sensitive business opportunities and growth

If you come across an unexpected opportunity or gap in the market, your emergency savings can allow you to take advantage of it. For example, you could use your emergency funds to produce or offer a new product or service you otherwise wouldn’t have the capital for. It can also keep you from going into debt to get the product or service to market.

Star Alt

Keep in mind: Using your emergency fund for business opportunities can be risky, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons before moving forward.

Bottom line

An emergency fund helps a business remain resilient despite any challenges it may face. Your business emergency fund can help with new opportunities, cover unexpected costs and protect your assets. As a rule, you want to save several months’ worth of expenses in your business emergency fund. While saving a sizable percentage of revenue is recommended, saving any amount for emergencies is a step in the right direction.

Frequently asked questions

  • You can create an emergency fund for your business by putting money in a separate business checking or savings account. A good starting point is saving 10 percent of your business’s monthly revenue, but you may want to adjust this number based on your business’s cash flow.
  • An emergency fund of $5,000 is likely not enough for a business or personal emergency fund, though it depends on expenses. The best way to determine how much you need for an emergency fund is to calculate your monthly expenses and multiply that number by at least three. Ideally, you want enough in your emergency fund to cover three to six months of expenses.
  • While a business emergency fund is a type of business savings, it is typically separate from a business’s other savings accounts. An emergency fund is any business account that you use to save money specifically for emergencies. It sometimes may also be referred to as cash reserves. But your business may have other savings or accounts that it uses, such as a savings account for operating profits.