April is Financial Literacy Month, and, as you can probably guess, that makes us pretty excited over here at LearnVest. Maracas? Check. Giant cake in the shape of dollar signs? Of course. New ideas to help you take control of your money, from ways to pay off your credit cards to ways to set up a budget? Clearly.
That's why we pored over the results of the 2012 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (NBPCA)*, which provides some of the most up-to-date data on how Americans are feeling about their money.
While most of us aren't seeing our proverbial piggy banks as half-full right now, the survey did find that 80% of Americans feel we could benefit from professional financial advice, and 42% of us grade ourselves a C, D or F when it comes to personal finance. (Fewer people "flunked" themselves back in 2010, when the number was 35%.)
LearnVest to the rescue!
If you're having trouble acting in your best financial interest at all times, you're not alone. And you've come to the right place. We've broken out the problem areas revealed in the report and provided resources to help you tackle the biggest financial issues Americans said were standing in their way.
1. Not Having a Budget
Over half of Americans report that they don't have a budget at all, and about 20% say they don't have a good idea of how much they spend on housing, food and entertainment.
Sound familiar? Budgeting, or deciding how much money you have for each category of your expenses, is one of the best things you can do for your finances. It makes you conscious of your spending, and consciousness about money is always a good thing. LearnVest has an entire (free!) course on how to establish and implement an effective budget, working off our perfect budget breakdown: the 50/20/30 Rule.
In other words, no more than 50% of your net income should go to essentials (rent, utilities, daily transportation, groceries), at least 20% should go to your financial priorities (emergency fund, retirement savings, debt repayment) and no more than 30% should go to your lifestyle choices (eating out, shopping, gym, travel, etc.). Read more on how to set up a budget with the 50/20/30 Rule.
2. Forgetting to Save—or Not Knowing How To
About 40% of adults say they're saving less than they were last year, and nearly the same number say they don't have any non-retirement savings whatsoever. This is the kicker: The survey respondents said that if they were to start amassing non-retirement savings, 25% of them would keep their savings at home, in cash.
Sound familiar? Despite what some people seem to think, savings aren't piles of money stashed away, never to be seen again. It's money you put aside now to be used later, in the case of a large purchase (like a house or vacation) or an emergency (like a car accident or illness).
Start with our free, ten-day Take Control Bootcamp to master your finances and learn the importance of an emergency fund, which should cover a minimum of six months of living expenses. And please, please, please don't store all your savings in cash! You'll be missing out on the interest you would earn if your savings were in high-yield savings accounts, CDs or investments. (Check this out for advice on how to set up a budget for saving.)
And while we're on the subject, the earlier you start your retirement savings, the better, as shown here.
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Over a quarter of U.S. adults say they're spending more than they did last year. They said the same in 2011, while in 2009 and 2010, they were spending less than they had the previous year—an effect of the recession. Of course, this increased spending might not be such a bad thing: It shows consumer optimism, a sign the economy may be recovering. The most important thing is that your spending is intentional and responsible, rather than emotional or out-of-control. (Here's out to get out of a downward spending spiral ... if you're in one.)
Sound familiar? The easiest way to curb overspending is by connecting your accounts to the LearnVest My Money Center, which allows you to sort through your Financial Inbox (think of it like an email inbox for every expense and every deposit), set up a budget for each area of your spending (like rent, food, travel and clothing) and see what you have and what you owe at a glance. In other words, it puts every figure you need to know at your fingertips.
4. Mishandling Your Credit Cards, Credit Score, Etc.
This year, U.S. adults are more likely to have applied and been rejected for a credit card than they were in 2011. Well over half of those surveyed haven't reviewed their credit score or report in the last year, and about 40% carry a month-to-month balance on their credit cards. On the bright side, there are more people this year (44%) who viewed their credit score than last year (37%).
Sound familiar? First things first. It goes without saying that it's important to pay off your credit cards. Next, Credit Karma allows you to view your credit score for free. A healthy credit score is above 650, and an exemplary score is over 700. Your score is important because it's the first point of reference a lender has for your trustworthiness with money--and if someone is going to lend you the money to buy a house or go to graduate school, they're going to want to know that you're trustworthy. (See the factors that affect your score here.) If debt is bogging you down, take our free Get Out of Debt Bootcamp, which will get you on the path to financial freedom in only 15 days, or read how to pay off your credit cards in 5 steps.
*The 2012 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey surveyed 1,007 adults ages 18+ in the United States. The full results are available here.
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