Everyone from Gen Z to Boomers could use more financial education: NFEC study

In its annual study, it found GenX and Boomers barely tested higher than Gen Z and Millennials.

The National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) revealed Tuesday the 2021 average test results from its annual financial literacy test. Participants ages 15 to 18 scored an average of 63%, ages 19 to 24 scored an average of 71%, and ages 25 to 35 scored 76%.

The NFEC is an International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) accredited social enterprise organization seeking to promote financial wellness on a global scale. 

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With April being financial literacy month, it's a good time to reexamine where consumers stand. The NFEC test was completed by 73,171 Americans across all 50 states. Its questions cover 10 subjects outlined in the NFEC's financial literacy framework and standards:

  • Financial psychology
  • Savings, expenses, and budgeting
  • Account management
  • Jobs and careers
  • Loans and debt
  • Risk management and insurance
  • Investments and personal planning
  • Credit profile
  • Skill development
  • Economic and government influences

The questions were formulated to gauge three main factors of financial literacy: motivation to learn, topic knowledge, and ability to identify initial action steps toward improving personal finances.

According to the press release, the older age brackets, understandably, scored a bit higher. Ages 36 to 50 scored an average of 77% and ages 51+ scored an average of 78%. But even those numbers fell shy of 100%.

The NFEC also revealed the results of three other tests. The Financial Foundation Test, from a total of 30,847 respondents, had an average score of 72%. The Advanced Financial Education Test, with a total of 12,821 participants, had an average score of 58%. And lastly, the Student Loan Test, with a total of 8,904 college students and college-bound students participating, had an average score of 59% with a failure rate of 66%.

"According to these test results, Americans have a long way to go before they are prepared to make more informed financial decisions," said NFEC CEO Vince Shorb in the press release. "Our youth and young adults need more financial education to ensure that they can confidently address near-term choices like moving out on their own, getting their first credit card, and deciding on student loan options."

With inflation reaching an all-time high of 7.9%, the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates by .25 percent for the first time since 2018, an influx of digital banking consumers, and Capital One finding in early March that 58% of consumers turned to loans or dipped into savings to cover expenses, financial literacy has grown increasingly important.

Also: LendingTree survey: Credit card debt is up by 30% over the past two years

According to the NFEC, understanding the basics around financial literacy is the first step to financial wellness. It's key that consumers are able to change their financial habits and become confident financial-decision makers, but that can be easier said than done without the proper resources supporting them.

Financial literacy can mean the difference between how to responsibly use a credit card and digging oneself deeper into debt. For example, a recent LendingTree survey found that 65% of participants think that holding a balance on a credit card can help credit scores. More often than not, it's the opposite.

Holding a balance on a credit card, depending on a consumers' total available credit, can be detrimental to both credit scores and bank accounts. Holding a balance means it's accruing interest, causing cardholders to pay more than they've borrowed over a longer period of time. Having a high credit utilization will also have a negative impact on credit scores.

However, big banks have been doing more to promote client's financial literacy -- most notably, Bank of America. The large financial institution was recently awarded J.D. Power's first financial health certification. Among other programs, Bank of America offers clients a Better Money Management hub with plenty of educational resources for people to take advantage of.

With large FinTechs like American Express and Robinhood wanting to attract younger users, it's growing more important for them to offer financial literacy resources.

Robinhood recently announced a new debit card, and so did AmEx with its new digital consumer checking account. Both companies said that one of the driving factors behind the creation of the new financial products was that Gen-Z and Millennials tend to use debit cards over cash.

Also: Robinhood simplifies investing with new Cash Card and spending account

That said, the Robinhood app does include educational resources for new investors. American Express is currently updating its app following the release of its new checking account, but doesn't include financial literacy resources for its users.

The app design team, however, is focused on listening to customer feedback. They told ZDNet in an interview that the app is an evolving process, and if financial education resources are something that customers want, they may add them in a future update.

If you'd like to take the NFEC's financial literacy test yourself and see how you fare, you can do so here.

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