If you’re reading this story, then you’re already ahead of the curve. That’s because adults and teenagers in the U.S. – and worldwide – are enormously ignorant when it comes to financial literacy. They struggle to understand basic concepts such as how interest works, why inflation matters and how to evaluate investment risks.
That ignorance is worrying, experts say. “There’s a lot of money to be made on bad [financial] decisions,” says Billy Hensley, senior director of education with the National Endowment for Financial Education, a Denver-based foundation focused on improving financial literacy. “There are predators out there who want you to make poor financial choices so their bottom lines go up.”
Want to make the grade when it comes to financial literacy? You should. Here are five concerning statistics about financial literacy … and how to avoid becoming one.
Fact: 35 percent of people with bad credit don’t do research before applying for a credit card, according to U.S. News’ Credit Cards Survey. Credit cards carry fantastic rewards, but come with great risks. Use them wisely, and you can improve your credit score and cash in on travel points, miles and cash back. Use them foolishly, however, and they can derail your finances, destroy your credit and cost you thousands of dollars in interest and fees along the way.
Find the best credit card for you by doing your research using resources such as U.S. News’ credit card rankings. Make an effort to understand the financial moves that will help you build good credit. If you can’t handle the responsibility of a credit card, don’t use one.
Fact: 1 in 5 teenage students in the U.S. lacks basic financial literacy skills, according to the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. Teens may be young, but it’s important that they understand basic financial concepts. Teenagers face dozens of important financial decisions before they celebrate their 20th birthday. They’ll need to make wise choices when borrowing student loans, building credit from scratch and selecting a career. “As 18- or 19-year-olds, we’re asking them to make the second largest financial decision in their life, after their mortgage,” says John Pelletier, director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Vermont’s Champlain College, of the choice to take on student loans.
Fact: In the U.S., 29 percent of working women demonstrated basic financial literacy versus 47 percent of working men, according to the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, or GFLEC. While women tend to be less financially literate than their male counterparts worldwide, they tend to be more cognizant of where they’re lacking in knowledge, says Annamaria Lusardi, academic director of GFLEC at George Washington University’s School of Business in the District of Columbia.
But educating women about their money is especially critical because it creates ripples into their communities. “Women are important agents for financial literacy,” Lusardi says. “Because women tend to care [for] the others around them, that knowledge can enrich not just themselves, which is important, but others around them.”
Fact: 54 percent of student loan holders didn’t attempt to figure out their future monthly payments before taking out their loans, according GFLEC. Borrowing for college is one of the first major financial decisions young people will make in their lives, experts say. And how they handle their loans may determine whether they have a healthy financial life with good credit and strong savings, or a weak financial future, with overwhelming debt and lousy credit.
College students should research not just the amount of loans that they’re borrowing, but the type of loan – federal, state or private – and what their future payments will look like with interest. There are dozens of resources available to help map this out, from U.S. News’ paying for college reporting to the financial aid offices at their university or college.