Survey: Most Say Not Understanding Money Has Hurt Their Financial Futures


If knowledge is power, then most Americans are not very strong — at least where money is concerned. 

A new GOBankingRates survey of more than 1,000 adults found that just 12% of Americans feel financially prepared for the future. About 30% don’t blame their apprehension on any lack of financial understanding. 

But 57% do. 

In short, nearly nine out of 10 people aren’t feeling good about the days to come, and most of them feel like they could be doing better if only they had a better grasp of the subject. 

Pessimism Persists Up to Retirement Age

About 18% of those 65 and older say they’re financially prepared for the future, the largest percentage of any age group. Surprisingly, considering they’re just getting started, the second-largest group was Gen Z. Nearly 15% of 18- to 24-year-olds are confident they have their bases covered. 

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Only a few percentage points separate the demographics in between. 

Among those who are uncertain about their ability to manage money in the years to come, 56% to 63% of every age group between 18 and 64 attribute their trepidation to simply not knowing enough about financial matters. 

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Only when you get to the oldest respondents, age 65 and up, do the percentages fall by any meaningful level — and even then, it’s still one in three.

Men and women split evenly, with 12% of each feeling good about their financial futures. Among the rest, women are a little more likely to blame their own limited understanding. 

Whom Can You Trust With Your Financial Education?

After the SEC charged the trio with illegally promoting cryptocurrencies, the world realized that perhaps Lindsay Lohan, Jake Paul and Soulja Boy weren’t such trustworthy sources of financial advice, after all.

On your mission to learn enough to make smart future money moves, you’ll find no shortage of people, podcasts and publications that all want to become your go-to source of info — and it can be tough to tell the pros from the pretenders. 

Literally Anyone Can Become a Financial Influencer

According to the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, you shouldn’t put too much stock in “finfluencers” — online personalities who produce content to generate followers, not to guide individuals. They’re often unqualified without established track records, they aren’t bound by the same ethical and legal regulations as certified professionals and they don’t always disclose conflicts of interest. The aforementioned celebs, for example, are accused of failing to disclose that they were paid for their endorsements.

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Red flags include: 

  • Free offers
  • Paid courses or training sessions
  • Dubious claims like getting rich quickly, easily eliminating large debts in a short time or building a real estate empire with no money down
  • Pressure to buy, join or subscribe

Stick With Fiduciaries and Sources That Trade on Their Reputations

That’s not to say that all financial influencers are frauds. You can get solid advice from social media personalities. Just make sure to seek out seasoned professionals with real industry experience and certifications that obligate them to be truthful and ethical. 

Beyond TikTok and YouTube, you can find credible financial and money-management resources from government agencies, financial institutions, regulatory bodies and established publications with long records of vetting their sources and verifying their facts — e.g., Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily and Money Magazine. 

But There Are Too Many Topics and Too Little Time

People avoid financial education because the sheer volume of subjects and strategies can feel confusing and overwhelming. Start simple. Before you dive into options trading and house flipping, build a foundation based on the fundamentals.

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The Big Three: Budgeting, Saving and Investing

Start your journey by learning about the three essential ingredients for healthy finances.

“Budgeting, saving and investing are critical skills for individuals of all ages to learn,” said Gary Mullen, CEO of FunderPro. “It’s important to understand how to create a budget and stick to it, making smart decisions about spending and saving. By saving early and often, using compounding in your favor, you can grow your wealth over time.”

Learn How Compounding Works Either for You or Against You

Mullen mentioned how money makes money through compounding — and that power can work either for you or for your lenders.

“Essentially, it means earning interest not only on your initial investment but also on the interest that accrues over time,” Mullen said. “The longer you save, the more your money can compound. However, it’s important to remember that compounding can also work against you if you’re carrying high-interest debt. If you’re paying more in interest on a loan than you’re earning on your savings or investments, you’re effectively losing money through compounding.” 

Nothing You Say to a Lender Will Speak Louder Than Your Credit History 

Finally, get to know your credit score, which serves as the financial avatar that represents you to every landlord and lender for the rest of your life. Sources such as Experian offer simple primers to help you work toward a score that delivers greater access and better rates.

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“Every individual should concentrate on building an excellent credit history,” said Wayne Bechtol, senior tax accountant and board advisor with Fiona. “It involves managing your credit cards well and making payments on time.”

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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