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A fifth of households said they have no emergency cash while another 12 per cent said they have less than £250 for a rainy day.
It is generally recommended to build up a minimum of three months take-home pay as a "salary cushion", typically £5,756.
Some 28 per cent of those who took part in the survey said they would be unable to cover rent or mortgage payments if they unexpectedly lost their income.
One in 10 said they would be forced to rely on a credit card, personal loan or an overdraft.
Almost a third of families have savings which would last just five days if they were faced with a financial emergency, research has found.
Of those surveyed, 31 per cent had less than £250 put aside as a safety net, three per cent higher than in a similar study from last year, HSBC said.
For the average family, monthly outgoings are £1,669 - just under £55 a day - which would see savings of £250 savings run out five days.