For all our country’s wealth and economic prowess, this may be America’s dirtiest little secret: We don’t know much about money.
We landed on the moon and won two world wars, but we’d almost rather be boiled in oil than try to navigate the world of finance and investments. It’s not that we’d turn down a windfall; it’s just that many of us are unsure exactly what to do with money when we get it and who to ask for advice.
All it takes is one horror story of a crooked investor or some late-night infomercial scam artist, and people run to bury their money in a mayonnaise jar. There’s a reason for this reticence to financial risk-taking: Most Americans weren’t taught how to handle money because our parents and grandparents weren’t taught, either.
More than two-thirds of us can’t pass a basic financial literacy test, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Capability Study sponsored by the FINRA Foundation.
The number of people who have been able to pass the test has been on a steady decline since 2009.
According to FINRA, Ohio ranks 46th out of 50 states for financial acumen.
Two of three Americans surveyed couldn’t figure out a simple interest equation. The remaining third admitted they don’t even know how interest works. Forty-five percent of those surveyed, who had no college education, said they would have difficulty cobbling together $2,000 in 30 days.
One in five Americans has unpaid medical debt. Minorities, particularly blacks and Latinos, are more likely than other groups to borrow money from “payday loan” companies that charge exorbitant interest rates in some cases so high borrowers are
unable to settle the debt.
By the way, when it comes to money smarts, senior citizens don’t fare much better than millennials, but millennials save more money than did previous generations of 20-somethings.
Though the stock market has recently hit record highs, a 2016 Gallup Poll found that just 52 percent of Americans own stock, far less than the 65 percent who did in 2007 just prior to the Great Recession.
The largest percentage of people who no longer invest also are the people who were most hurt by the crash: Middle-income Americans.
A study by Bankrate found that while 46 percent of people polled said they would invest in the stock market if they had more money, another 20 percent said they simply don’t trust the stock market or professional advisers.
There is, however, some good news. Since the Great Recession, the percentage of people who can keep pace with their monthly bills has risen by 12 points since 2009. Also, the number of those who have emergency savings have climbed too; from 35 percent in 2009 to 46 percent in 2015.
Also, more than half of those surveyed who use credit cards do pay off the balance each month, which is the highest percentage in years.
It’s never too late to get smarter about money. There literally are thousands of books and courses to help you understand how money works. Money gurus such as Suze Orman, Mellody Hobson and Vicki Robin write easy-to-read books on debt reduction, money management and investment.
Author and radio host Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” course is frequently offered by churches.
There’s nothing more American than a success story.
April is Financial Literacy Month. Invest in yourself.