April is National Financial Literacy Month

by Spencer Tierney 16. April 2014

Financial Literacy

Every April for the past 10 years, we have celebrated National Financial Literacy Month – and for good reason. A person’s financial literacy level can always be improved. In a study conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, participants were asked five questions about personal finance, and 61% of them couldn’t answer more than three questions correctly.

1. Why is financial literacy important?

As the financial landscape changes, it is becoming increasingly important for individuals to know how to plan and manage their finances. More companies are moving away from pension plans and toward retirement plans that require employee participation, like 401(k) plans, leaving it up to the employees to determine how much to put into retirement. Additionally, college tuition is steadily increasing, making it even more important for families to save.

Add to that the constantly changing markets and interest rates – and the myriad options for credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages, IRAs, and investment options –and it might start to seem overwhelming.

But the more you know about financial matters, the easier it becomes to navigate through your options, and the better you are able to plan. A 2011 TIAA-CREF study also shows that higher financial literacy leads to higher pension contributions and higher household wealth.

2. How can you improve your financial literacy?

Don't be embarrassed if your financial literacy isn’t stellar. According to the 2013 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey, 41% of U.S. adults give themselves a grade of C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance. That leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Start by getting to know your finances. Be aware of your household income and your household debt including credit card debt, mortgage, auto loans, student loans, etc. Once you know your finances, you can make yourself a budget. This will serve as the blueprint for your everyday finances to help get them on track.

That's the easy part. Once you have the basics in place, you’ll want to arm yourself with the knowledge to make the best financial decisions moving forward. Some things you’ll want to learn about are:

  • Interest rates. That means on both earned and owed interest. Learn how earned interest will affect the amount in your savings account over time and how the owed interest on your credit card will affect your monthly payments.
  • Investing. Learn what the difference is between a stock and a bond, and how to invest your money to make it work the hardest for you.
  • Retirement. If you don’t have a retirement plan in place, find out what your options are. If you do, make sure you’re contributing enough each month to make your retirement years financially stable.

3. How can your bank help you improve your financial literacy?

Many banks have programs in place to help their customers increase their financial literacy. Some offer seminars, literature in their branch lobbies and/or consumer education modules on their websites, including glossaries of banking terms. In addition, many banks offer online tools for financial planning, like budgeting tools or tools to help diminish debt. Banks may also offer financial education programs for kids and teenagers. Check with your bank to see what resources they can offer you.

There's no better time to start, so take advantage of Financial Literacy Month to get a jump-start on increasing your financial knowledge.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer for NerdWallet, where he covers all aspects of personal finance.

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