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America’s Growing Financial Literacy Problem

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America's Growing Financial Literacy Problem

America’s Growing Financial Literacy Problem

Making major personal finance decisions can be daunting for anyone.

Whether the decision is related to paying back student debt or how to invest for the first time, the outcomes of these decisions have a long-term impact on the quality of our lives. Smart decisions can lead to achieving financial independence, while bad decisions can lead to years of being stuck in the “hole”.

Even though it’s clear that financial literacy is important, there’s a big problem: it’s actually been dropping for years in the United States.

Diagnosing the Problem

Today’s infographic was done in conjunction with Next Gen Personal Finance, a non-profit that provides a free online curriculum of personal finance courses geared to students.

The graphic paints a troubling picture of the current financial literacy situation in the country, while demonstrating why personal finance is a crucial area of study for our youth.

Here are some of the indicators that show literacy is dropping:

  • The U.S. ranks 14th globally in terms of financial literacy
  • With a 57% literacy, the U.S. beats Botswana (52%) but gets edged out by countries like Germany (66%) or Canada (68%)
  • Only 16.4% of U.S. students are required to take a personal finance class in schools
  • 76% of millennials lack basic financial knowledge
  • Between 2009-2015, Americans got worse at answering five key personal finance questions posed by FINRA – a major U.S. financial regulator

And worse, this lack of knowledge is translating into anxiety and even fear.

  • Four of five adults say they were never given the opportunity to learn about personal finance
  • 70% of millennials are stressed and anxious about saving for retirement
  • 22% of millennials feel overwhelmed about their finances
  • 13% of millennials feel scared

Meanwhile, student debt is soaring to new highs – how do we put our students in a better spot to succeed?

The Road Ahead

As financial products continue to increase in complexity, the road ahead is not an easy one.

However, there is still a great case for optimism: 60% of Americans say they know someday they will need to be more financially secure – they just don’t know how to get there. This number increases to 70% for those between the ages of 18-39 years old.

This means there is actually a great thirst for financial education out there – the question is just how to best deliver that information in a compelling way.

Another good sign? The youngest generation, Gen Z, is already starting to think about money differently:

Gen Z saw millennials struggle with wage stagnation and huge college debt, so they took note and are making a conscious effort to approach money and debt differently.

– Jason Dorsey, Center for Generational Kinetics

Real World Benefits

Increased financial literacy translates into real world benefits for individuals, and to the economy as a whole.

People with strong financial skills are better at job planning and saving for retirement. Meanwhile, financial savvy investors are more likely to diversify risk, and students that take a personal finance course see up to a 5.2% increase in credit scores within two years.

Lastly, consumers that understand compound interest:

  • Spend less on transaction fees
  • Accrue less debt
  • Incur lower interest rates on loans
  • Save more money

And this is just scratching the surface of what could be possible.

Making the right financial decisions can help people meet their own personal goals, live a life of abundance, get out of debt, and become financially independent.

This infographic was originally published on the Wealth 101: A Crash Course in Personal Finance minisite, a collaboration between NGPF and Visual Capitalist

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Investor Education

Ranking Asset Classes by Historical Returns (1985-2020)

What are the best-performing investments in 2020, and how do previous years compare? This graphic shows historical returns by asset class.

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Historical Returns by Asset Class

Historical Returns by Asset Class (1985-2020)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, is there one asset class to rule them all?

From stocks to bonds to alternatives, investors can choose from a wide variety of investment types. The choices can be overwhelming—leaving people to wonder if there’s one investment that consistently outperforms, or if there’s a predictable pattern of performance.

This graphic, which is inspired by and uses data from The Measure of a Plan, shows historical returns by asset class for the last 36 years.

Asset Class Returns by Year

This analysis includes assets of various types, geographies, and risk levels. It uses real total returns, meaning that they account for inflation and the reinvestment of dividends.

Here’s how the data breaks down, this time organized by asset class rather than year:

 U.S. Large Cap StocksU.S. Small Cap StocksInt'l Dev StocksEmerging StocksAll U.S. BondsHigh-Yield U.S. BondsInt'l BondsCash (T-Bill)REITGold
TickerVFIAXVSMAXVTMGXVEMAXVBTLXVWEAXVTABXVUSXXVGSLXIAU
2020*1.5%-5.5%-10.3%-0.7%4.9%-0.5%2.6%-0.7%-16.4%21.9%
201928.5%24.5%19.3%17.6%6.3%13.3%5.5%-0.1%26.1%15.9%
2018-6.2%-11.0%-16.1%-16.2%-1.9%-4.7%1.0%-0.1%-7.7%-3.2%
201719.3%13.8%23.8%28.7%1.4%4.9%0.3%-1.3%2.8%9.3%
20169.7%15.9%0.4%9.5%0.5%9.0%2.5%-1.8%6.3%6.6%
20150.6%-4.3%-0.9%-16.0%-0.3%-2.0%0.3%-0.7%1.6%-12.3%
201412.8%6.7%-6.4%-0.2%5.1%3.9%8.0%-0.7%29.3%-1.2%
201330.4%35.8%20.3%-6.4%-3.6%3.1%-0.4%-1.5%0.9%-29.0%
201214.0%16.2%16.5%16.8%2.4%12.5%4.5%-1.7%15.7%6.5%
2011-0.9%-5.5%-15.0%-21.0%4.6%4.2%0.8%-2.9%5.5%5.5%
201013.4%26.0%6.8%17.2%5.0%10.9%1.7%-1.5%26.6%26.0%
200923.3%32.7%24.9%71.5%3.2%35.6%1.6%-2.4%26.3%20.2%
2008-37.0%-36.1%-41.3%-52.8%5.1%-21.3%5.5%2.0%-37.0%5.4%
20071.3%-2.7%6.8%33.6%2.8%-1.8%0.1%0.7%-19.7%25.8%
200612.9%12.9%23.1%26.3%1.8%5.7%0.5%2.1%31.8%19.3%
20051.4%3.9%9.8%27.7%-0.9%-0.5%1.8%-0.5%8.3%13.0%
20047.3%16.2%16.5%22.1%1.0%5.2%1.8%-2.0%26.7%1.4%
200326.2%43.1%36.1%54.7%2.1%15.1%0.4%-0.9%33.3%19.2%
2002-23.9%-21.8%-17.6%-9.6%5.8%-0.6%4.2%-0.7%1.3%20.8%
2001-13.3%1.6%-23.1%-4.4%6.8%1.3%4.6%2.6%10.7%-0.4%
2000-12.0%-5.8%-17.1%-29.9%7.7%-4.1%5.4%2.5%22.2%-9.6%
199917.9%19.9%23.6%57.3%-3.4%-0.2%-0.6%2.0%-6.5%-1.7%
199826.6%-4.2%18.0%-19.4%6.9%3.9%10.2%3.5%-17.7%-2.4%
199731.0%22.5%0.0%-18.2%7.6%10.0%8.9%3.5%16.8%-23.2%
199618.9%14.3%2.6%12.1%0.3%6.0%8.3%1.9%31.4%-7.7%
199534.0%25.6%8.4%-1.9%15.3%16.2%14.3%3.1%10.0%-1.7%
1994-1.5%-3.1%4.9%-10.1%-5.2%-4.3%-7.3%1.3%0.4%-4.9%
19937.0%15.5%28.9%69.4%6.7%15.1%10.7%0.2%16.3%13.9%
19924.4%14.9%-14.7%7.8%4.1%11.0%3.3%0.6%11.2%-8.7%
199126.3%40.9%8.7%54.5%11.8%25.2%7.5%2.5%31.5%-12.5%
1990-8.9%-22.8%-27.9%-16.1%2.4%-11.3%-2.7%1.6%-20.3%-8.3%
198925.5%11.0%5.6%56.9%8.6%-2.6%-0.6%3.7%3.9%-6.8%
198811.3%19.7%22.8%33.9%2.8%8.8%4.4%2.1%8.6%-19.6%
19870.3%-12.7%19.3%9.3%-2.8%-1.7%4.5%1.3%-7.8%19.0%
198616.8%4.5%67.5%10.4%13.9%15.6%10.1%5.0%17.7%17.9%
198526.4%26.2%50.3%22.9%17.6%17.5%7.0%3.8%14.6%1.7%

*Data for 2020 is as of October 31

The top-performing asset class so far in 2020 is gold, with a return more than four times that of second-place U.S. bonds. On the other hand, real estate investment trusts (REITs) have been the worst-performing investments. Needless to say, economic shutdowns due to COVID-19 have had a devastating effect on commercial real estate.

Over time, the order is fairly random with asset classes moving up and down the ranks. For example, emerging market stocks plummeted to last place amid the global financial crisis in 2008, only to rise to the top the following year. International bonds were near the bottom of the barrel in 2017, but rose to the top during the 2018 market selloff.

There are also large swings in the returns investors can expect in any given year. While the best-performing asset class returned just 1% in 2018, it returned a whopping 71.5% in 2009.

Variation Within Asset Classes

Within individual asset classes, the range in returns can also be quite large. Here’s the minimum, maximum, and average returns for each asset class. We’ve also shown each investment’s standard deviation, which is a measure of volatility or risk.

Return Variation Within Asset Classes Over History

Although emerging market stocks have seen the highest average return, they have also seen the highest standard deviation. On the flip side, T-bills have seen returns lower than inflation since 2009, but have come with the lowest risk.

Investors should factor in risk when they are looking at the return potential of an asset class.

Variety is the Spice of Portfolios

Upon reviewing the historical returns by asset class, there’s no particular investment that has consistently outperformed. Rankings have changed over time depending on a number of economic variables.

However, having a variety of asset classes can ensure you are best positioned to take advantage of tailwinds in any particular year. For instance, bonds have a low correlation with stocks and can cushion against losses during market downturns.

If your mirror could talk, it would tell you there’s no one asset class to rule them all—but a mix of asset classes may be your best chance at success.

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Personal Finance

Visualizing How the Pandemic is Impacting American Wallets

57% of U.S. consumers’ incomes have taken a hit during the pandemic. How do such financial anxieties affect the ability to pay bills on time?

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A Snapshot of U.S. Personal Finances During the Pandemic

If you’ve felt that you’ve needed to penny-pinch more during the pandemic, you’re not alone.

In the past seven months, 42% of U.S. consumers have missed paying one or more bills, while over a third (39%) believe they will need to skip payments in the future.

This visualization breaks down the state of U.S. consumers’ personal finances during the COVID-19 era, and projects into future concerns around savings.

Pandemic Personal Finances: Key Takeaways

Based on data from the doxoINSIGHTS Bills Pay Impact Report across 1,568 sampled households, three themes emerge:

  • 57% of consumers’ incomes have taken a hit in the past seven months
  • 70% have delayed discretionary spending on big purchases
  • 75% continue to be very worried about their future financial health

How do these anxieties translate into day-to-day consequences?

Pandemic Postpones Bill Payments

Unsurprisingly, worrying about personal finances also means that more Americans are deferring their bill payments during the pandemic. However, these vary depending on the type of bill, total amount, and immediate urgency.

Over a quarter (27%) of U.S. consumers report having missed a bill on their auto loans, followed by 26% for utilities and 25% on cable or internet costs.

The average cost of the above three bill types is $258—but that’s still a fraction of the two most expensive bills, mortgage or rent, which come in at $1,268 and $1,023 respectively.

Bill Type$ Value% Missed
Auto loans$37427%
Utilities$29026%
Cable/ Internet$11025%
Rent$1,02320%
Mobile phone$8819%
Mortgage$1,26817%
Alarm/ Security$7617%
Auto insurance$18115%
Dental insurance$2514%
Life insurance$7613%
Health insurance$9410%

Prioritizing Payments

While 20% of Americans say they’ve missed a rent payment over the past few months, what’s even more alarming is that 28% of U.S. consumers believe they will most likely skip paying rent in the future.

Bill Type% Likely to Skip in Future
Cable/  Internet29%
Utilities28%
Rent28%
Auto loans26%
Mobile phone26%
Mortgage21%
Auto insurance21%
Alarm/ Security19%
Dental insurance16%
Life insurance17%
Health insurance15%

Another clear trend is that many Americans are prioritizing insurance payments, particularly health insurance. This is good news during a global pandemic—only 10% have missed paying this bill type, although 15% expect to skip it in the coming months.

According to the report, some U.S. consumers seem to prioritize the bill types which come with strings attached, from late-payment penalties to accrued interest.

While missing a single payment might seem harmless, a pattern of missed payments over time have the potential to negatively impact your credit score.

Enough Savings To Stay Afloat?

Finally, Americans are wary about how much they have stashed away in the bank to weather the tumultuous months ahead.

While unemployment figures are recovering from historic troughs, the fear of losing one’s job remains prevalent. How many months’ worth of savings do U.S. consumers think they have if this were to happen?

# Months % Responses
7+ months 💰💰💰💰💰💰💰23%
4-6 months 💰💰💰💰💰💰15%
1-3 months 💰💰💰27%
<1 month 💰35%

No one knows how long the COVID-19 chaos will last. In order to adapt to this economic uncertainty, consumer priorities are shifting along with their tightened budgets.

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