woman with calculator Those with greater financial literacy were more likely to track their spending; save and plan for retirement; have nonretirement savings. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Ignorance is not bliss—not when it comes to financial wellness, anyway.

According to the third annual Personal Finance Index released by the TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business, Americans don’t have the knowledge of personal finance that can enable them to make sound financial decisions.

The P-Fin Index drew the line between financial ignorance on key points and how that plays out into a lack of financial wellness, with respondents able to correctly answer only an average of 51 percent of questions about eight basic functional areas of personal finance.

The eight areas—a total of 28 questions—applied to these segments of financial knowledge: earning (determinants of wages and take-home pay); consuming (budgets and managing spending); saving (factors that maximize accumulations); investing (investment types, risk and return); borrowing/managing debt (the relationship between loan features and repayments); insuring (types of coverage and how insurance works); comprehending risk (understanding uncertain financial outcomes); and go-to information sources (recognizing appropriate sources and advice).

The news was not good. While the report found that financial literacy varies across demographic groups based on sex, age, household income, employment status and education, and personal finance knowledge is highest when it comes to borrowing and managing debt, and lowest in comprehending risk, the percentage of P-Fin Index questions answered correctly rose from 49 percent in 2017 to 50 percent in 2018 to 51 percent in 2019.

And the really sad part? The report found that “[i]ncreases in financial literacy between 2017 and 2019 were concentrated mostly among those with relatively high levels of financial literacy already.”

In other words, those who already knew the most were the ones learning more.

In addition, survey respondents were only able to correctly answer an average of 38 percent of questions surrounding understanding risk — the area in which comprehension appears to be lowest. Twenty percent of respondents could only get between 0–7 questions right, while 27 percent only managed right answers for 8–14 questions out of the 28.

The study showed a clear link between greater financial literacy and financial wellness, with those possessing greater financial literacy more likely to track their spending; save and plan for retirement; have nonretirement savings; and less likely to be financially fragile.

They’re also more likely to make loan payments on time, and less likely to be constrained by debt.

In sum, a little more knowledge would not be a dangerous thing—but instead could lead to better financial wellness.

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