National study assesses adult financial literacy

September 4 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University has released results of a national survey that assesses U.S. adults’ self-reported levels of financial literacy. The findings indicate that fewer than 30 percent of U.S. adults view their personal financial knowledge as very good or better.

The quantitative online survey polled 805 adults randomly selected from throughout the U.S. with respondents statistically profiling the U.S. adult population. The survey aimed to establish a baseline assessment of U.S. adults’ financial literacy levels, identify the types of information these adults seek to improve their financial knowledge, uncover areas in which adults believe they need the most help with personal financial education and understand perceived barriers adults face in seeking financial literacy education.

Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. adults view their overall financial knowledge as very good or better. However, the research also found that more than half of U.S. adults believe they understand the concept of managing, saving, spending and investing money wisely, reporting a need for the most guidance with investing, retirement planning and taxes. A separate question revealed that despite economic trends in personal bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosure, a climbing credit card debt, U.S. adults are somewhat more confident in their knowledge of spending, insurance, lending/borrowing and banking.

Adults perceive a need for financial literacy. Eight in 10 of survey respondents think it is important that financial literacy be taught. They also express a desire to enhance their own personal financial knowledge to assist them with saving and preparing for the future. However, they are not actively seeking assistance with these life skills. Sixty-five percent of U.S. adults have not received any financial literacy instruction in the past 12 months.

In identifying sources of financial education, the research asked respondents to indicate the most frequently sought sources for financial information. Family members were highest ranked followed by friends/colleagues and financial planners. While family and friends were most frequently consulted, financial planners were viewed as the most valuable source of personal financial education. Bank personnel were viewed as moderately valuable. Human resources personnel and credit counselors were reported as the least valued sources.

“Respondents’ lack of value in the services available through human resources departments is particularly disturbing as these departments typically manage the bulk of individuals benefits, including insurance and retirement planning options,” saidd David Godsted, director of financial literacy at Networks.

The survey found that adult consumers desire facts and personalized assistance in investing, retirement planning and the wise use of money. Despite the value placed on financial planners, the vast majority of U.S. adults do not rely on someone else to handle their finances. While U.S. adults express a desire to learn more about financial education, they cite a lack of funds and time as primary barriers to being more financially literate. While less than one-third of U.S. adults have sought financial information, assistance or instruction within the past 12 months, only about one-third report that they are likely to seek such resources in the next 12 months.

Networks Financial Institute released the report during an Aug. 28 conference it hosted in Indianapolis entitled "Nation’s Foreclosure Epidemic: Causes, Consequences and Remedies."

Echoing results of the survey, speakers at the foreclosure forum indicated that a lack of financial literacy is one of the key culprits in the current foreclosure crisis. A copy of the Adult Financial Literacy Study is available online at

Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University was founded in 2003 with a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. The non-profit organization strives to facilitate a more effective national and international financial services marketplace through education, outreach and research. Networks Financial Institute is headquartered in Indianapolis with offices on the campus of Indiana State University in Terre Haute and outreach in Washington, D.C., and internationally. For more information about Networks Financial Institute, visit

Contact: David Godsted, director of financial literacy, Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University, (317) 536-0291 or

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Story Highlights

A survey of more than 800 U.S. adults by Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University underscores the need for adult literacty education, Networks officials say. The survey found fewer than 30 percent of respondents view their personal financial knowledge as very good or better.

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