Most people know more than they think about financial matters, but it's often what you don't know that can hurt you. This is a good time to brush up on your financial literacy with April being National Financial Literacy Month, as designated by a vote of Congress in 2004. Plus, most of us are home during the coronavirus crisis, so the downtime is a good opportunity to expand your knowledge.
The National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) recently released the results of its 30-question National Financial Literacy Test. Over 53,000 people took the test from all 50 states, ages 10 and up, and the average grade was 68. Younger people, as expected, did not fare as well. Specifically, 10- to 14-year-olds got an average grade of 56, while 15- to 18-year-olds earned a 63. The average scores gradually went up from there with 21- to 24-year-olds scoring 71; 25- to 35-year-olds averaging a 74; and those 36 and up averaging 78.
The results show there is room for improvement. We spoke to Vince Shorb, CEO of NFEC, for some tips to help people improve their financial literacy.
1. Testing, testing, testing
Improving your financial literacy starts with identifying your knowledge gaps. That can be most effectively done through testing. Fortunately, you don't have to sign up for a class at the local college or attend a seminar -- although you certainly can -- because there are many online tests available. NFEC is a great source with more than 30 different free tests on its website on a variety of subjects including student loans, investing, risk management, savings, expenses and budgeting, and even financial psychology, among others. You name it, NFEC will probably have the test. Results are emailed immediately with the answers to help you learn from your mistakes. This can help you zero in on the right areas.
2. Find a trusted source of information
Seek out a trusted source of information to help you work through and improve your financial literacy. Again, it doesn't mean you have to attend an adult education course. This trusted source could be a financial advisor, a reputable website or news outlet, an author, a book, an educator, or some other expert, said Shorb. This source not only helps you learn what you don't know, but it can reaffirm what you do know, said Shorb. Often, people don't make the right financial decisions because they lack the confidence to act or don't have the affirmation of a trusted source. In times like this, when it's tempting to make emotional decisions that are unsound, it's even more important to have a trusted source.
3. Know how you learn best
The best way to learn is to identify how you learn best. There are four general types of learners: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. Which type are you? If you are a visual learner, look for sources with charts and graphics. Auditory learners like to hear the information, while reading and writing learners do best when information is in printed form. Kinesthetic learners prefer a hands-on approach. Whether its videos, audio books, textbooks, articles, or something else, consume your financial information in the way that most appeals to you. "A lot of what we try to do is to help people find how they like to learn or who they like to learn from," said Shorb.
4. Establish good behaviors and practices
Shorb finds that many people have a pretty good handle on the basics of personal finances and investing, but their behaviors don't match their actions. They know, for example, that they should pay down debts, not overspend, and establish a "rainy day" fund, but they don't have the systems in place to execute on those ideas. Good systems might be setting up automatic bill pays, paying off extra on credit cards every month, or starting to invest on a consistent basis.
As a final word of advice, Shorb reminds people who are concerned about their finances during the COVID-19 pandemic to write down the things that they find most worrisome right now. This will help you avoid pitfalls and be better prepared in the future.