Who's financially literate and who's not

By Lucy Lazaron • Bankrate.com 

Want to be a tip-top money manager?

Give yourself plenty of time.

Bankrate.com’s financial literacy poll shows that Americans with razor-sharp financial skills have been around the block a few times.

The average age of people who scored an “A” on our financial literacy test is a spry 54. And they’re not idle.

Most are busy juggling the demands of work, marriage and family. Yet, they still find the time to mull over financial decisions carefully. And they’re savers. Despite the incessant financial costs of raising children, they manage to save.

Their average household income is an impressive $63,500. They’re Internet-friendly and use the Web to help manage their finances.

literacy ageThey’ve got a firm grasp on the key financial matters in their lives. They’re fiscally fit and savvy and they’re a distinct minority.

Just 10 percent of Americans polled by Bankrate.com scored an “A” on our financial literacy quiz. And just 16 percent scored respectable “Bs.” So only a quarter of all Americans seem to be in charge of their finances.

The rest need some serious financial help. And a whopping 35 percent failed miserably, scoring big, fat “Fs.”

What do the fiscally fit and savvy “As” have going for them that the faltering “Fs” don’t? The differences may surprise you.

Gender, formal education play no role
First off, gender is not much of a factor at all. Neither is formal education. Age, however, does seem to make a difference and so does attitude.

The average age of those Americans that flunked our financial quiz is 41. They’re a decade or so younger than the fiscally fit crowd. But they’re not exactly kids either. They’re plenty old enough to take charge of their financial lives.Not surprisingly, financial flunkies tend to have lower household incomes, an average of just $43,000. Most have children and more than half are unmarried. They have the same Internet access as those at the other end of the grade scale — but only 26 percent use the Internet to manage their finances.

The biggest differences between a financial ace and a financial flunky may boil down to mindset and good, old-fashioned discipline.

Consider that 61 percent of Americans with failing financial grades say they plan carefully when making decisions. But that a full one-third says they tend to make decisions, including financial ones, spontaneously.

They’re also spenders. Fifty-six percent of those at the bottom of the financial literacy heap call themselves spenders rather than savers.

In contrast, a whopping 91 percent of all financial aces make a point of planning carefully when making decisions. And 76 percent of those with tip-top finances consider themselves savers.

And maybe even more telling only 14 percent of financial aces consider themselves spenders.

Excuses, excuses
Another important distinction between the fiscally fit and the fiscally adrift, comes down to attitude.

Financial flunkies are full of excuses. The biggest excuse has to do with time.

  • Sixty-eight percent of fiscally unfit Americans plan to get their finances in better order as soon as they find the time.
  • More than half can’t afford to put money away for an emergency that might never happen.
  • More than 30 percent say finding the best deal on a mortgage is confusing.
  • One-fifth say making a will is too depressing.

Folks in charge of their financial lives don’t mess around with excuses. They know it takes time and hard work to manage their money and make sound, financial decisions. And that’s exactly what they do.