The Financial Literacy Crisis

Client Centered

Imagine driving a car without a basic understanding of the rules of the road or even how to operate it. Scary thought. Here’s another scary circumstance – one that is all too real. Many Americans are making financial decisions with minimal financial knowledge of investing, budgeting, and credit. The TIAA Institute conducted a survey on U.S. financial literacy, asking 28 basic questions about retirement savings, debt management, budgeting, and other financial matters. The average respondent answered only about half of the questions correctly.1

Another recent survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that almost 40% of Americans say that it has been somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses in the last seven days.2 It has been said that knowledge is power, and if that’s true, then too many Americans lack the power to control their financial futures. Financial success rarely happens by accident; it is typically the outcome of a journey that starts with education.

One of the obstacles to greater financial literacy is the so-called “Lake Wobegon effect.” In other words, we all consider ourselves above average, and based on that belief, it only follows that our financial understanding is above average. Unfortunately, this assumption has a flaw: it may discourage us from learning as much as we need in order to continue adapting to an ever-changing financial landscape. A survey held by the Motley Fool Ascent, recorded that 71% percent of Americans have $5,000 or less in savings.Seemingly, most people could benefit from raising their financial literacy. Let’s start with the foundation.

The Five Basics of Financial Literacy

Credit and debt

Understanding the ways credit and debt work for and against you are some of the first steps toward understanding personal finance. While it’s not useful to be scared of credit and debt and avoid it entirely, there are some things to look out for.

Debt

Debt is like any tool: when used correctly, it can be quite useful. When used incorrectly, debt can easily spiral out of control. Missing payments may negatively affect your credit score, and that can take years to recover from. Missed payments, for example, can stay on your credit report for seven years.1

Credit Score

Your credit score is one of the factors lenders use to judge your trustworthiness and qualification for mortgages, auto loans, and other lending. Landlords and employers may also check your credit before renting to you or offering you a job.

Interest

Interest can work against you, but it can work for you, too. When you take out a loan with an interest rate, it’s working against you, but when you invest early and take advantage of compound interest, it’s working for you.

Compound Interest

When you’ve got an account that’s accruing interest, the interest earned gets added to the principal. Then, interest is earned on the new, larger principal, and the cycle repeats. That’s compound interest, baby!

The Value of Time

It's never too early to start saving. In fact, the earlier you start, the better your result. By getting started with retirement savings sooner rather than later, you can leverage the value of time to your advantage.

Cindy vs. Charlie

Consider the case of Cindy and Charlie, who will each invest a total of $100,000. Cindy starts right away, depositing $10,000 a year at a hypothetical 6% rate of return. After 10 years, Cindy stops making deposits. Charlie, on the other hand, waits 10 years before starting to invest. He also puts $10,000 a year away for 10 years, at the same hypothetical rate as Cindy. After 20 years, who has more money? Shockingly, Cindy's balance is nearly twice as big as Charlie's, thanks to the extra time her investment returns had to compound.2

Inflation

Inflation has the potential to eat away the purchasing power of your money. That means, with inflation, the dollar you earn today may not be worth a dollar in the future. Here some things to keep in mind when thinking about inflation.

Cash in a Mattress

Keeping all your cash under a mattress is not only unsafe, it literally costs you money. Assuming the rate of inflation is a hypothetical 2%, every dollar you squirrel away will shrink in value to just $.98 next year.

Rate of Return

Because inflation erodes the purchasing power of your money, any returns you earn on your accounts may not be the “real” rate of return. If your account earned a hypothetical 6% rate of return over the last year, but inflation was 1.5%, your real rate of return was 4.5%.3

Identity theft and safety

In the modern world, identity theft is one of the biggest threats to financial and personal safety. A cracked password or misplaced Social Security number can have big consequences on your current and future finances.

Consider using a password manager

The common wisdom is to use a unique password for each site and service you use. A password manager can make this easier by generating and storing strong passwords until you need to use them.

 

The more informed we are, the more informed our financial decisions may become. Fortunately, we can consult a wide range of resources in pursuit of greater financial knowledge. If you are committed to increasing your financial literacy, contact us with any questions or visit a U.S. Treasury-sponsored website created for that very purpose.3

 


1.TIAAInsitute.org 2022
2.Census.gov 2023
3.MyMoney.gov 2023

4. the Motley Fool Ascent 2023

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2024 FMG Suite.