Have you ever met someone who doesn’t want to start a CrossFit class until they get in shape, and found yourself wondering, isn’t the point of the class to help you get in shape?
That mentality is not uncommon — even for our personal finances. Americans lack savings, are increasingly in debt and face a looming retirement crisis. Yet many are reluctant to seek advice or increase their financial know-how. In fact, a Standard & Poor’s survey ranked the U.S. No. 14 globally in terms of its citizens’ financial literacy and rated just 57% of U.S. adults financially literate.
The Financial Literacy Gap: Real — and Growing
Financial literacy — defined as the knowledge and understanding of areas related to personal finance, money and investing — is critical for navigating financial decisions … and navigating life. But FINRA’s Investor Education Foundation discovered a clear decline in financial literacy over the past nine years in its State of U.S. Financial Capability study. In 2009, 42% of respondents were able to answer four or more questions correctly in a five-question survey on fundamental concepts of economics and personal finance. By 2018 this dropped 8 percentage points to 34%. More alarming, less than one-third of adults understand three basic financial literacy topics by age 40, although many important financial decisions are made decades earlier.
Total U.S. household debt increased to $13.86 trillion this summer, according to the New York Fed, with $1.48 trillion belonging to student loans. About one-third of adults under age 30 have student loan debt. If they lack financial literacy, their decisions now could have negative consequences in the long term.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Americans believe they are financially literate, according to FINRA’s study. Nearly three-quarters (71%) have a high self-assessment of their financial knowledge. But the majority (59%) cannot complete two simple interest rate and inflation calculations and 38% could not calculate the compound interest of debt.
Americans are worried. As revealed in our fifth annual Advisor Authority study of roughly 1,600 RIAs, fee-based advisers and individual investors, top financial concerns of investors include cost of health care (33%), taxes (31%), protecting assets (27%) and saving enough for retirement (23%). Without financial literacy, how can they be ready for the future?
My Advice: Take These 3 Steps to Increase Your Own Financial Literacy
Today, money moves fast, through peer-to peer payments, online apps, credit cards and other types of borrowing. Without the right financial skills, this can lead to high debt, mortgage defaults or financial insolvency. Make good financial decisions to support your short-term and long-term financial goals, by closing the financial literacy gap. Three steps include:
Step No. 1: Educate yourself
In the U.S., even as more schools, colleges, workplaces, not-for-profits and government agencies offer financial education, only one-third of states require students to take a personal finance course in high school, according to the Council of Economic Education. Because it is not a focus in our schools, many Americans are left to figure it out on their own.