Even the affluent are living pretty close to the margin, spending what they have and borrowing on credit cards for everyday emergencies like household repairs, says a new study by MetLife Inc.

As a result, the well-to-do are keeping their retirement savings liquid in bank accounts and certificates of deposit so the funds will be available for emergencies, says the study, titled “Money on the Sidelines.” The report is slated for release today, but Reuters obtained a copy early.

“There’s a high cost to this liquidity,” says Robert Sollman Jr. of MetLife. “They are putting their retirement security at risk by not putting their money back to work in the stock market.”

“The most common reason for keeping these assets liquid is in case of household emergencies,” the study found. That eclipsed other traditional reasons for keeping money liquid, such as worries about stock market risk.

Even so, more than one-third borrowed money through home equity lines, personal loans and credit cards to cover those unexpected emergencies, with credit cards being the most common go-to source of emergency money.

Affluent investors are more likely than others to have changed their retirement savings patterns because of the financial crisis. More than half said they have changed their behavior, with many of them “parking” some retirement funds in low-yielding, but safe and liquid, instruments.

But they aren’t depending on bank accounts for all of their retirement savings. Roughly 65 percent of more affluent Americans are using mutual funds, 21 percent are using U.S. Treasury bonds, 20 percent are using municipal bonds and 19 percent are using fixed annuities, MetLife said.

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