Do you know more about finance than the average American? If not, you may be in big trouble. You see, the average American would get a failing grade on even a simple test of financial knowledge. According to FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, when given a quiz of five basic financial questions, some Americans cannot get even three out of the five answers right.
The national average for correct answers on the quiz — based on compound interest, the relationship between interest rates and bond prices and more — is a little less than three correct answers. That would be a failing grade by most standards.
If you can’t do better than some of these test takers, it will probably cost you money throughout your lifetime. Furthermore, the test is pretty simple. You can take it yourself on the FINRA website. While the questions deal with basic financial issues, real-world decisions are usually much more complicated than the questions on this quiz. In other words, if most people are failing on this quiz, their actual financial decisions are probably pretty poor.
Unfortunately, women did particularly poorly on the Financial Literacy Quiz. Across all age groups, a higher percentage of women than men failed to answer at least three of five financial questions correctly. Disturbingly, the gender gap actually widens over time. The quiz results indicate that financial knowledge improves with age for both men and women, but it improves more slowly in women. One interpretation is that being pigeon-holed into traditional gender roles is a culprit — if men typically take the lead on financial decisions within a household, women will have less opportunity to learn about what goes into those decisions.
As mentioned above, financial literacy scores generally improve with age. Among adults, they are at their worst among 18- to 24-year-olds. They peak between ages of 65 and 69, before falling off a little in later years.
This improvement with age is a mixed blessing. It’s good that financial literacy improves with experience, but when it comes to your finances, keep in mind that experience is a very expensive way to learn. Perhaps the real problem is that financial literacy starts at such a low level among young adults — less than 50 percent of men and less than 40 percent of women got at least three out of five answers right on the FINRA quiz. By the time people are in their late 60s, more than 80 percent of men and more than 70 percent of women were able to get at least three out of five questions right.
This suggests that for many people, financial learning does not occur in the classroom but only through experience. Often, that method of learning about finance means paying for your mistakes along the way.