Study Finds Less Than 20% of Americans Understand Money Basics — How About You?

financial literacy

Only 16 percent of Americans have a high level of financial literacy, according to a recently released index measuring working knowledge of personal finance.

The P-Fin Index, developed by the TIAA Institute and George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC), aims to understand where Americans fall short when it comes to making sound financial choices.

TIAA and GFLEC asked 1,043 adults 28 questions about routine financial decisions. These questions centered on topics such as saving, investing, borrowing, and earning money. The questions were designed to gauge how well Americans understand and manage money.

The result? U.S. adults are split about 50/50 between those who answered one-half of the questions correctly and those who didn’t. A whopping 20 percent of respondents answered fewer than a quarter of questions correctly, indicating that Americans have a way to go when it comes to financial education.

financial literacy statistics

Source: The TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index (2017)

Younger Americans struggle more with financial literacy

Only 10 percent of Americans under the age of 45 have a relatively high level of financial literacy. Nearly a third (30 percent) have a relatively low level of financial knowledge.

Younger Americans find it especially hard to understand concepts related to risk and insurance, according to the P-Fin Index.

This can be a problem for the future, said financial planning expert Tom Anderson, founder and CEO of financial tech company Supernova Companies and the author of a series of books about the value of debt.

“Most people are making big financial decisions in their 20s and 30s,” Anderson explained. “They don’t understand the realities of money and make poor decisions that can impact them later.”

Anderson pointed specifically to young adults’ lack of knowledge about investing. If you don’t take advantage of investing opportunities when you’re younger, for example, you’ll miss out on the power of compounding interest.

Education level can help

According to the P-Fin Index, higher levels of education led to a better ability to answer questions about financial literacy. Unsurprisingly, those with a financial education also answered more questions correctly.

financial education

Source: The TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index (2017)

The study also showed that those with better financial literacy were also more likely to have positive money experiences. On top of that, they were more likely to have thought about their retirement needs and were better prepared for financial emergencies.

How to improve your knowledge

Think you might need to brush up on your financial literacy? There are plenty of resources available.

One good place to start is MyMoney.gov, a portal with information for all age groups. There are also plenty of online and offline publications about personal finances; The Kiplinger Letter, The Financial Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal all offer insights into money.

You can even have some fun while learning about this potentially boring topic — innovative games such as those offered by Practical Money Skills are designed to help you learn about money.

For more advanced learners, consider taking an online course that can help you learn about money and how it works. Yale, MIT, and UC Berkeley all offer free online courses on finances.

Finally, you can sit down with a financial professional to help you learn concepts and map out a plan for your specific goals.

You don’t have to be one of the 20 percent of Americans with a low level of financial knowledge. Take your money chops to the next level and prepare for a brighter future.

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