Infographic: America's Growing Financial Literacy Problem
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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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Personal Finance

Mapped: Personal Finance Education Requirements, by State

Only 22.7% of U.S. students are required to take a personal finance course. Which states have the highest levels of personal finance education?

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The Percentage of Students Receiving Personal Finance Education

When you graduated from high school, did you know how to create a budget? Did you have an understanding of what stocks and bonds were? Did you know how to do your own taxes?

For many Americans, the answer to these questions is probably a “no”. Only 22.7% of U.S. high school students are guaranteed to receive a personal finance education. While this is up from 16.4% in 2018, this still represents a small fraction of students.

This graphic uses data from Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF) to show the percentage of high school students required to take a personal finance course by state.

A Closer Look at State-level Personal Finance Education

A standalone personal finance course was defined as a course that was at least one semester, which is equivalent to 60 consecutive instructional hours. Here’s the percentage of students in each state who have a required (not optional) personal finance course.

State/Territory% of Students Required to Take Personal Finance Course
Mississippi100.0%
Missouri100.0%
Virginia100.0%
Tennessee99.7%
Alabama99.6%
Utah99.6%
Iowa91.3%
North Carolina89.2%
Oklahoma47.1%
New Jersey43.0%
Nebraska42.8%
Kansas40.8%
Wyoming38.3%
Arkansas34.6%
Wisconsin33.5%
South Dakota27.1%
Ohio23.5%
Pennsylvania16.2%
Maine15.6%
Rhode Island14.8%
Connecticut14.7%
Illinois13.9%
Maryland12.5%
North Dakota12.2%
Vermont12.1%
Nevada11.0%
Indiana10.9%
Oregon7.5%
Minnesota6.9%
Montana6.9%
New Hampshire6.0%
Kentucky5.5%
Colorado5.4%
Delaware5.0%
Massachusetts5.0%
West Virginia3.2%
Louisiana2.7%
Washington2.4%
Texas2.2%
New York2.0%
Michigan1.7%
Idaho1.4%
Arizona1.0%
California0.8%
South Carolina0.8%
Alaska0.6%
Florida0.4%
New Mexico0.4%
Georgia0.0%
Hawaii0.0%
Washington, D.C.0.0%

Eight states currently have state-wide requirements for a personal finance course: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. Naturally, the level of personal finance education is highest in these states.

Five states have begun the process of implementing a requirement, with Florida being the most populous state yet to guarantee personal finance education for high schoolers. The state previously required schools to offer a personal finance course as an elective, but only 5% of students took the course.

Outside of the guarantee states, only 9.3% of students are required to take a personal finance course. That number drops to 5% for schools that have a high percentage of Black or Brown students, while students eligible for a free or reduced lunch program (i.e. lower income students) also hover at the 5% number.

Why is Personal Financial Education Important?

The majority of Americans believe parents are responsible for teaching their children about personal finance. However, nearly a third of parents say they never talk to their children about finances. Personal finance education at school is one way to help fill that gap.

People who have received a financial education tend to have a higher level of financial literacy. In turn, this can lead to people being less likely to face financial difficulties.

Chart showing that people with low financial literacy are more likely to face financial difficulties, such as being unable to cover an unexpected $2,000 expense, compared to people with high financial literacy

People with low levels of financial literacy were five times more likely to be unable to cover one month of living expenses, when compared to people with high financial literacy. Separate research has found that implementing a state mandate for personal finance education led to improved credit scores and reduced delinquency rates.

Not only that, financial education can play a key role in building wealth. One survey found that only one-third of millionaires averaged a six-figure income over the course of their career. Instead of relying on high salaries, the success of most millionaires came from employing basic personal finance principles: investing early and consistently, avoiding credit card debt, and spending carefully using tools like budgets and coupons.

Expanding Access to Financial Education

Once the in-progress state requirements have been fully implemented, more than a third of U.S. high school students will have guaranteed access to a personal finance course. Momentum is expanding beyond guarantee states, too. There are 48 personal finance bills pending in 18 states according to NGPF’s financial education bill tracker.

Importantly, 88% of surveyed adults support personal finance education mandates—and most wish they had also been required to take a personal finance course themselves.

When we ask the next generation of graduates if they understand how to build a budget, it’s more likely that they will confidently say “yes”.

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Personal Finance

Ranked: The Best and Worst Pension Plans, by Country

Which countries are best equipped to support their elderly citizens? This graphic compares pension plans around the world.

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Pension Plans

The Best and Worst Pension Plans Worldwide

Each year, millions of people around the world leave the workforce to retire.

But as the global population grows older, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates the already rising number of retirees, there is still a large degree of variance in the quality of public pension plans around the world.

Which countries have invested in robust public pension programs, and which lag behind?

This graphic, using 2021 data from Mercer CFA Institute Global Pension Index, compares retirement income systems worldwide.

How the Index Ranks Pension Plans

Because a country’s pension system is unique to its particular economic and historical context, it’s difficult to draw direct comparisons. However, there are certain elements that pension experts see as universally positive, and that lead to better financial support for older citizens.

As with previous rankings, Mercer and the CFA Institute organized these universal elements into three sub-indexes:

  • Adequacy: The base-level of income, as well as the design of a region’s private pension system.
  • Sustainability: The state pension age, the level of advanced funding from the government, and the level of government debt.
  • Integrity: Regulations and governance put in place to protect plan members.

These three measures were used to rank the pension system of 43 different countries, representing more than 65% of the world’s population. This year’s iteration of the index notably includes four new countries—Iceland, Taiwan, UAE, and Uruguay.

The Full Ranking

When it comes to the best pension plans across the globe, Iceland, the Netherlands, and Denmark have the top three systems.

CountryOverall ValueAdequacySustainabilityIntegrity
🇦🇷 Argentina41.552.727.743.0
🇦🇺 Australia75.067.475.786.3
🇦🇹 Austria53.065.323.574.5
🇧🇪 Belgium64.574.936.387.4
🇧🇷 Brazil54.771.224.171.2
🇨🇦 Canada69.869.065.776.7
🇨🇱 Chile67.057.668.879.3
🇨🇳 China55.162.643.559.4
🇨🇴 Colombia58.462.046.269.8
🇩🇰 Denmark82.081.183.581.4
🇫🇮 Finland73.371.461.593.1
🇫🇷 France60.579.141.856.8
🇩🇪 Germany67.979.345.481.2
🇭🇰 Hong Kong61.855.151.187.7
🇮🇸 Iceland84.282.784.686.0
🇮🇳 India43.333.541.861.0
🇮🇩 Indonesia50.444.743.669.2
🇮🇪 Ireland68.378.047.482.1
🇮🇱 Israel77.173.676.183.9
🇮🇹 Italy53.468.221.374.9
🇯🇵 Japan49.852.937.561.9
🇰🇷 Korea48.343.452.750.0
🇲🇾 Malaysia59.650.657.576.8
🇲🇽 Mexico49.047.354.743.8
🇳🇱 Netherlands83.582.381.687.9
🇳🇿 New Zealand67.461.862.583.2
🇳🇴 Norway75.281.257.490.2
🇵🇪 Peru55.058.844.264.1
🇵🇭 Philippines42.738.952.535.0
🇵🇱 Poland55.260.941.365.6
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia58.161.750.962.5
🇸🇬 Singapore70.773.559.881.5
🇿🇦 South Africa53.644.346.578.5
🇪🇸 Spain58.672.928.178.3
🇸🇪 Sweden72.967.873.780.0
🇨🇭 Switzerland70.065.467.281.3
🇹🇼 Taiwan51.840.851.969.3
🇹🇭 Thailand40.635.240.050.0
🇹🇷 Turkey45.847.728.666.7
🇦🇪 UAE59.659.750.272.6
🇬🇧 UK71.673.959.884.4
🇺🇾 Uruguay60.762.149.274.4
🇺🇲 U.S.61.460.963.659.2
Average61.062.251.772.1

Iceland’s system ranks high across all three sub-indexes. The country offers a state pension with two components: mandatory contributions from both employees and employers, and optional contributions to state-approved pension products.

Its system has a high contribution rate, which ultimately results in a generous state pension that retirees in Iceland can tap into. The country also has a relatively low gender pension gap, meaning the difference between the average female pension versus male pension is relatively small—especially compared to other OECD countries.

gender gap pensions oecd

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Philippines, Argentina, and Thailand scored the lowest on the ranking.

Thailand scores particularly low in the adequacy category, with a score of 35.2. To increase its score, Thailand could increase the minimum payments for its poorest demographic and include more employees in occupational pension schemes.

Recommendations for Better Pension Plans

According to the index, countries seem to be steadily improving their pension systems. From 2020 to 2021, the average score of the overall index increased by 1.0.

With an average of 60.7, the index shows that most countries’ systems have some good features, but they also have some significant shortcomings that could be addressed by the following recommendations:

  • Boosting adequacy by increasing coverage, and including more employees in private pensions systems.
  • Increasing sustainability by adjusting retirement pension age to reflect increasing life expectancy, and promoting higher workforce participation from older citizens.
  • Raise integrity by introducing policies that reduce the gender pension gap and discrepancies amongst minorities.

Countries that implement even a few of these changes could make a huge difference for their next generation of retirees—and those that don’t could be in trouble in the near future.

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