32 Must-Know Financial Literacy Statistics in 2021

Chang Fu
February 15, 2021

Experts have studied the relationship between financial crises and overall financial literacy extensively. The research confirms that being more literate in financial topics is positively correlated to an individual’s capacity to overcome macroeconomic difficulties like COVID-19 or the 2008 financial crisis. 

Many Americans have money problems because of financial illiteracy, and the issue persists globally. Overdraft fees trend up, while income remains steady. Without a clear understanding of financial knowledge on a community level, personal financial skills are impacted, and — on a national scale — the economy suffers. Luckily, Americans are making strides towards becoming financially literate and care about learning the basics to make smarter financial decisions.

Financial literacy statistics explore the existing knowledge of basic financial concepts and shed light on the generational, demographic, and geographic differences in the distribution of money knowledge. 

Financial Literacy Statistics Overview:

  1. Worldwide, only one-third of adults understand basic financial concepts. 
  2. 4 in 7 Americans are financially illiterate.
  3. Only 24 percent of millennials understand basic financial topics.
  4. In 2020, states that required high school students to take a personal finance course increased by 24 percent from 2018.

Table of Contents:

Financial Education as an Average

A basic financial education not only promotes fiduciary confidence but it encourages better money management skills, decision-making graft, and strong budgeting and spending habits

The trouble with standardized financial literacy programs, though, is the need to differentiate the approach based on an individual’s personal situation. Joyce Serido, associate professor and extension specialist of family social science at the University of Minnesota, explains, “When it comes down to it you have to start where the person is and let them dictate the pace at which they can move forward.”

adults-cant-pay-monthly-bills-statistic
  1. 64 percent of all adults assert that money is a significant stressor, more so (73 percent) for people with a household income of under $50,000. (American Psychological Association)
  2. When it comes to financial literacy, people are least knowledgeable about topics related to financial risk. (TIAA Institute)
  3. 12 percent of adults wouldn’t be able to pay their monthly bills if they incurred an unexpected expense of $400 or more. (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System)
  4. 19 percent of Americans report spending more than their income in the past year. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  5. There is a positive correlation between people who are active participants in a sociable community and those who invest in the stock market. (National Bureau of Economic Research)
  6. Young adults who had state-mandated personal finance courses in high school are less likely to borrow high-interest loans than those who weren’t required to take the courses. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  7. 73 percent of people with high financial literacy scores claimed to gain their education from personal experience. (Federal Reserve Bulletin)
  8. 38 percent of adults have less than $1,000 saved for financial emergencies. (PwC)

Financial Knowledge Across Generations

Generationally, people’s personal experience impacts their capacity for financial education, which results in varied levels of knowledge between eras and the need for tailored financial lessons based on life status. Continuous learning is important throughout the entire life cycle to keep up with the ever-changing economy. 

Economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve of the United States, Alan Greenspan, stated, “Financial education is a process that should begin at an early age and continue throughout life. This cumulative process builds the skills necessary for making critical financial decisions that affect one’s ability to attain the assets … and improve economic well being.”

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  1. Married millennial women are more likely to report being financially confident than married Gen X and married Baby Boomer women. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  2. Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate the ability to understand basic financial concepts. (GFLEC
  3. Though Gen X is closer to retirement than Millennials, they have about the same amount of money saved. (Walden University)
  4. Older adults that are overconfident in their financial knowledge tend to have riskier financial behavior. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  5. Nearly 60 percent of parents report giving their kids financial help in the past year. (Pew Research Center)
  6. 63 percent of Millennials feel anxious when thinking about their financial situation. (TIAA Institute)

Minority Groups and Financial Education Rates

The disparity of financial knowledge between minority groups and non-minority groups is extensive, despite similar economic contributions. Financial literacy statistics show knowledge gaps based on home origin, median household income, and level of education, among other demographic differences.

immigrant-status-lowers-financial-literacy-scores
  1. Minority groups, on average, have between 9 and 16 percent lower financial literacy scores compared to Caucasians. (AEA Web)
  2. Women are less likely than men to be offered financial education. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  3. African Americans have a lower level (41 percent) of financial literacy than the national average (48 percent). (Walden University)
  4. Incarcerated females have the highest rates of poverty when compared to incarcerated males, and the male and female general public. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  5. An immigrant status lowers financial literacy exam scores by about 27 percent. (Ohio State University)
  6. Regardless of demographic differences, people with disabilities are less likely to answer financial literacy questions correctly. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)

Money Literacy in America

Kabir Sehgal, corporate strategist at First Data Corporation, envisions the root of a healthier world economy starting on Wall Street. “I think the money for global solutions is on Wall Street. Wall Street allocates capital. And we need to get capital to the ideas that are successful, whether it’s microfinance, whether it’s through financial literacy programs, Wall Street can be the engine that makes capital get to the people who need it.”

Proper financial education increases the potential of economic opportunity. As more data becomes available, government programs and school systems have begun to implement a standardized, more efficient way to educate the public.

34-percent-of-americans-answer-financial-literacy-questions-correctly
  1. About 4 in 7 Americans are financially illiterate and report being unable to manage their finances. (Walden University)
  2. In 2020, states that required high school students to take a personal finance course increased by 24 percent from 2018. (Council for Economic Education)
  3. Financial illiteracy cost each American about $1,600 on average in 2020, and $415 billion nationally. (National Financial Educators Council)
  4. Only 34 percent of Americans can answer at least four of five basic financial literacy questions. (FINRA Investor Education Foundation)
  5. Virginia, Utah, and New Hampshire are the most financially literate states, and Mississippi, Alaska, and Louisiana are the least. (Wallet Hub)
  6. In 2019, 70 percent of high schoolers in America had the option to take a personal finance course, but only 17 percent of students were required to take one. (Council for Economic Education)

International Financial Literacy Facts

Financial literacy contributes to a healthy global economy and provides information for government entities to empower effective programs. Worldwide, the lack of financial education creates a barrier to participate in an international economy. Because of the general lack of information, many world citizens don’t have access to simple financial services and are ostracized from expanding their financial education. 

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  1. Northern European countries including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden are the most financially literate in the EU (65 percent of adults.) (S&P FinLit Survey)
  2. Of the 42 percent of people who report having trouble meeting their daily financial obligations, in the smallest economies only 6 percent of people report having enough financial cushion to last one week if faced with hardship. (OECD)
  3. Nearly half of adults (8.5 million) in Australia are financially illiterate. (University of Western Australia)
  4. Worldwide, only one-third of adults understand basic financial topics. (S&P FinLit Survey)
  5. The average financial well-being score of Canadian citizens is 66 out of 100, with only about a quarter of respondents reporting struggling financially. (Financial Consumer Agency of Canada)
  6. South Asia has the lowest financial literacy rates with only 25 percent of adults being literate. (S&P FinLit Survey)

Additional Financial Literacy Resources

Integrating personal responsibility for further financial education into existing government and institutional programs can provide the best opportunity for a healthy financial future for yourself and generations to come. Understanding the resources available for further education is the first step to gaining adequate knowledge. 

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These financial literacy statistics allow a look into what future economies might be like. As the education and government sectors realize the importance of this knowledge and begin to enact standardized learning programs, the state of the future economy is hopeful. Until then, Americans and other world citizens must take it upon themselves to become financially literate for budgeting, saving, investing, and understanding credit and personal debt such as credit building loans

Chang Fu

Chang is an avid writer, among other things, at Possible. He grew up loving reading and writing, creating his own poems and even a book he's now hidden in an old closet, unpublished. His financial experience at a large bank along with his passion for technology to help underserved communities inspires him to write for Possible.

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