Americans Still Don't Know Much About Money

Illustration for article titled Americans Still Dont Know Much About Money

As life and The Big Short have taught us, we are screwed until eternity and financial uncertainty is nearly inevitable.


To make ends meet, it helps to know a little bit about capitalism, numbers and how the system works. But a new study released Wednesday by the FINRA Foundation found that most Americans are financially illiterate, even post-Recession. Almost two-thirds of us do the thinking-face emoji when it comes to basic money issues. Do you have any idea what a bond is?

The study tested a group of 27,564 subjects over the course of five months last year; 61% couldn’t get more than three out of five money-related questions right. According to the National Financial Capability Study, the questions concerned: “aspects of economics and finance encountered in everyday life, such as compound interest, inflation, principles relating to risk and diversification, the relationship between bond prices and interest rates, and the impact that a shorter term can have on total interest payments over the life of a mortgage,” all of which I’m obviously familiar with...


Time reports:

Bonds presented one of the biggest problems for respondents of the survey. Just 28% knew what happens to bond prices when interest rates fall. (They rise.) And less than half of all Americans appear to be able to answer basic questions about financial risk.

Why must we be so inept? Maybe because instead of learning about real-life numbers in sequential math class in high school, we discovered imaginary numbers, and maybe because economics and financial aptitude aren’t nationwide educational requirements, especially in poorly funded schools. Thankfully, kids and adults today with enough resources can learn more easily through an engine called Google instead of stumbling through life broke and ill-informed. But it’s a bigger problem. Per its press release, the study also found:

More than one in five Americans (21 percent) have unpaid medical debt, and women are more likely than men to put off medical services due to cost, such as seeing a doctor, buying needed prescriptions or undergoing a medical procedure.

Nearly half of respondents with a high school education or less could not come up with $2,000 in 30 days in the event of an emergency (45 percent) compared to only 18 percent for respondents with a college degree.

Hispanics and African-Americans are much more likely to use high-cost forms of borrowing like pawn shops and payday loans compared to whites—39 percent for African-Americans, 34 percent for Hispanics and 21 percent for whites.


The good news is that more Americans are able to comfortably pay monthly bills (48%) compared to 2009, and “the percentage of respondents with emergency funds has increased from 35 percent in 2009 to 46 percent in 2015.”

The foundation’s chairman, Richard Ketchum, said the results reveal a “critical need for innovative strategies to equip consumers with the tools and education required to effectively manage their financial lives.” Help.


Image via Paramount Pictures.

Culture Editor, Jezebel

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I call bullshit. Understanding bonds and investment principles has zero to do with the every day business of making ends meet for 99% of people. And that business about minorities paying more to borrow money? It’s not because they’re dumb/uneducated about how borrowing works, it’s because our financial system actively excludes certain individuals from full participation and then preys on them when they’re most vulnerable. Ask anybody standing outside a payday loan place - they know they’re getting fucked, but they don’t have a choice right that minute.