Lack of Financial Literacy Can Cost Americans Thousands

Nearly three in 10 Americans of retirement age reported that lacking knowledge about personal finances caused them to lose $30,000 or more in their lifetime.

The benefits of compounding earnings on investments are common talking points when it comes to encouraging people to save for retirement through employer plans or individual retirement accounts (IRAs). However, a lack of financial knowledge can also have a snowball effect that causes money to deteriorate rather than accumulate.

According to the latest study by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC), 28.8% of Americans at least 65 years old reported that lacking knowledge about personal finances caused them to lose $30,000 or more in their lifetime. While this is typically considered retirement age today, the detrimental effects can become much worse as studies show that Americans are concerned about funding living longer and many are choosing to retire later, often to negative results

The firm asked people of all generations, “Across your entire lifetime, about how much money do you think you have lost because you lacked knowledge about personal finances?” Regardless of age group, respondents estimated that their lack of financial knowledge cost them an average of $9,724.83. This figure was calculated by averaging the total number of respondents choosing each category or money range, using the lowest number in each spread.

The categories broke down as follows: $0-999 (36.28%), $1,000-$4,999 (15.32%), $5,000-$14,999 (13.68%), $15,000-$29,000(10.22%), and $30,000 or more (24.52%).

That leaves almost one-quarter of Americans seeing at least $30,000 disappear simply because they lacked a firm grip on personal finance. The firm concluded that given 240 million adults live in the country, this would spell out to Americans collectively losing about $2.3 trillion in their lifetime, because of their poor financial wellness. 

NFEC notes, “Lack of personal finance knowledge costs people money: bank fees, interest on credit card debt, higher interest rates on loans, and investment losses are just a few examples.”

According to the survey, estimated lifetime losses of more than $15,000 were reported by one out of three respondents, and nearly one in four people reported losses of more $30,000. NFEC notes that respondents in the 55-to-64-year-old category estimated experiencing the highest losses, with 41.5% believing they had lost $15,000 or more. When breaking down who projected losing $30,000 or more based on age group, those between the ages of 55 and 64 accounted for the biggest chunk (32.7%).

Those with time on their side reported the smallest losses, with 42.5% of 18-to-24-year-olds estimating losing between $0 and $999. But, time could be a curse for Millennials not improving their financial knowledge. And those who have lost the most and are closest to retirement may have a difficult time catching up.

These figures highlight a need to boost financial wellness across all generations as soon as possible.