Utah tops in financial literacy (but that's not saying much)
Utahns, give yourself a pat on the wallet.
A recent national survey shows that we're the most financially literate Americans in the nation, for what that's worth.
Of more than 25,000 adults polled in the FINRA State-by-State Financial Capability Survey, Utahns scored highest on a financial literacy quiz, with 49 percent answering at least four of five questions correctly.
"Utahns did a whole lot better than the rest of the nation," said Gerri Walsh, president of FINRA Investor Education Foundation, which has conducted the survey since 2009. "Many of the trends are moving in a positive direction, and that gives us hope."
But just because we've got money smarts and a blossoming habit of saving doesn't mean we have our financial houses fully in order.
The survey also found that 49 percent of Utahns carry a balance on credit cards, which means more money is going toward interest. Utahns are also more likely to owe more on their homes than they're worth (20 percent in Utah vs. 14 percent nationally). And although the number of us saving for a rainy day is at 44 percent (up from 34 percent in 2009 but still less than half), only 26 percent of Utahns with dependent children are saving for college.
"That's not bad, but it's important for all Americans to plan not only for the present, but for the future," Walsh said.
The results dovetail with many of the trends that Al Bingham sees locally. The Layton-based author and financial consultant doesn't take much pride in the "Most Financially Literate" ranking, saying that Americans generally fail to grasp basic personal finance concepts.
"This is a huge problem all across the country," Bingham said. "We're the best of the worst."
He also laments that many Utahns "mortgage everything" in order to keep up with their peers and that Utah couples who are saving for their children's education are rare.
"What I see is a short-term focus," he said. "I think a lot of families think their kids can just get some student loans," not realizing that those loans only shift debt onto their children.
But he does see a bright spot the next generation. He tells the story of a teacher who emailed him about the trickle-up effect of financial literacy courses being taught in local high schools.
"Our students are actually going home and teaching our parents," he said.
"We're not in great shape by any means, but we do lead the pack here in Utah," Bingham said. "This gives us an opportunity to be able to lead the discussion."
Take the quiz
1 • Suppose you have $100 in a savings account earning 2 percent interest a year. After five years, how much would you have? a.) More than $102 b.) Exactly $102 c.) Less than $102 d.) Don't know
2 • Imagine that the interest rate on your savings account is 1 percent a year and inflation is 2 percent. After one year, would the money in the account buy more than it does today, exactly the same or less than today?
3 • If interest rates rise, what will typically happen to bond prices? Rise, fall, stay the same or is there no relationship?
4 • True or false: A 15-year mortgage typically requires higher monthly payments than a 30-year mortgage but the total interest over the life of the loan will be less.
5 • True or false: Buying a single company's stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.
Source • FINRA Foundation
FINRA financial literacy quiz answers
1 • You'll have more than $102 at the end of five years because your interest will compound over time.
2 • You'll have less because your buying power has not kept up with inflation.
3 • Bond prices will fall because as interest rates go up, newer bonds come to market paying higher interest yields than older bonds already in the hands of investor.
4 • If both loans have the same interest rate, you'll pay less in interest over the life of a 15-year loan than you would with a 30-year loan because you repay the principal at a faster rate.
5 • In general, investing in a stock mutual fund is less risky than investing in a single stock because mutual funds offer a way to diversify.
More detailed answers are available at http://www.usfinancialcapability.org.