The results of the 2014 Financial Literacy Survey were released by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. The survey examines U.S. adults’ knowledge of financial literacy, as well as behavioral and attitudinal trends associated with personal finance.
“This year’s survey once again confirms that the need for financial education is great,” says Susan C. Keating, NFCC’s president and CEO, who is based in Washington D.C. “Without a solid foundation on which to base everyday financial decisions, Americans are on a slippery slope as they begin to rebuild their financial lives following the Great Recession.”
The survey finds that there are significant gaps of personal financial knowledge including the areas of budgeting, saving, and understanding credit reports and credit scores. All these are key elements of successful money management, says Keating.
In the area of budgeting and debt, 61% of U.S. adults, the highest percentage in six years, admit to not having a budget. Financial experts generally agree that a budget is a basic tool of financial management, and without it, a person can more easily lose track of spending. Nonetheless, consumers appear reluctant to utilize this tool, which could explain why about one in three adults (34%) indicated their household carries credit card debt from month to month, with 15%, or more than 35 million people, admitting to rolling over $2,500 or more monthly.
When it comes to saving versus spending, the top concerns noted by survey respondents were evenly divided between insufficient “rainy day” savings for an emergency (16%) and retiring without having enough money set aside (16%). However, the proportion of adults who are spending less when compared with the previous year continues to decrease, from a high in 2009 of 57%, to a low in 2014 of 29%. According to the survey, this suggests that although consumers are uncomfortable with their lack of savings, they may continually be increasing their year-over-year spending.
In terms of credit reports and scores, the survey shows that most adults have not reviewed their credit score (60%) or their credit report (65%) within the last year. Almost one in four adults who did not order their credit report in the past year (23%) say they already knew their credit scores, so they did not think they needed their credit reports. The survey notes that although related, credit reports and credit scores are two very different expressions of personal credit. Since each plays a critical role in a person’s financial future, however, they both merit regular review. The survey notes that there is some confusion by employees about the difference between the two, with more than half of all U.S. adults (54%) mistakenly believing that a standard credit report typically contains a person’s credit scores.
In personal finance knowledge, 41% of adults gave themselves a grade of C, D or F. When asked what their money would say to them if money could talk, about one in five (21%) respondents thought it would say, “I’m smaller than most of my friends.” About one in five (21%) also thought their money would say, “I feel loved and nurtured.”
“With April being Financial Literacy Month, now is a good time to check your credit report and score, since credit knowledge is such an important part of understanding personal finance,” says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for Experian Consumer Services, which sponsored the survey. “In today’s environment, it’s especially important that consumers check their credit report regularly to spot signs of fraud and better understand what affects their credit so they can make informed financial decisions.”
The survey concludes that the absence of a budget, insufficient savings, spending beyond what can be responsibly repaid, confusion around credit reports and scores, and an admitted lack of knowledge pertaining to personal finance are all red flags that demand attention. According to the survey findings, the good news is that nearly three in four U.S. adults (73%) agree that, considering what they already know about personal finance, they could still benefit from advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a professional. In addition, if they were having financial problems related to debt, 27% of adults, or more than 63 million people, say they would reach out to a professional nonprofit credit counseling agency for assistance.
The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll, on behalf of the NFCC, between March 4 and 6, among 2,016 adults ages 18 and older. The NFCC is a national nonprofit financial counseling organization. Experian Consumer Services provides credit monitoring and other information products, such as identity protection, to millions of consumers via the Internet.
More information about the survey can be found here.