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Americans Need a Little Financial Know-How

Most Americans need a little help managing money. (Veronica Carter)
Most Americans need a little help managing money. (Veronica Carter)
July 28, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Only about one in three Americans is financially literate - with a basic understanding of financial concepts such as budgeting, credit and decision-making when it comes to money, according to a nationwide study just released by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

The results did not surprise J. Michael Collins, director of the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said so many people struggle to get by in part because they really don't know much about money, credit and banking. At particular risk are minorities and young people who were never taught the basics.

"There's a whole generation of people who didn't get brought up with that,” Collins said. “They didn't get taught it at home, they didn't get taught it at school, and now it's a burden on them that they have to figure it out. People who don't have a good grasp of managing their money struggle more with credit and debt. They have a hard time paying bills on time. They don't have financial plans. They don't save as much for retirement."

The study surveyed more than 27,000 Americans, measuring their grasp of concepts such as budgeting, planning ahead, financial knowledge and financial decision-making.

According to Collins, it doesn’t have to be difficult to learn the basic concepts involved in managing income, but some shy away from it because it involves basic math. Improving financial literacy is critical to surviving, he said, but it's possible that two-thirds of Americans aren't financially literate because the topic of money is often taboo.

"We don't talk about money with our friends and family,” Collins said. “We feel uncomfortable when people talk about money in front of us. So it's a combination of a skill set that we sort of feel uncomfortable with - that we don't feel confident about - and the fact that this is an issue that's just not talked about."

Fundamental to improving financial management, according to Collins, is having a system and paying regular attention to simple financial management tasks, such as paying bills on time and saving for retirement. He said improving financial literacy is like diet or exercise: step one is paying attention and making it a priority.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR