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10 Eye-Opening Financial Literacy Statistics

Written by
Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 6 min
Updated on September 6, 2023
The data speaks for itself — and it’s not good.

The data is clear. Americans have a financial literacy problem.

Fortunately, there’s also reason for hope. People want to make smart financial decisions — even if they can’t always do it. They understand the importance of financial literacy to create success and financial stability.

We reviewed the latest reports to better understand the state of financial literacy in America. The statistics that emerged offer a glimpse into how well-equipped we are as a country to manage our money. Some speak to our understanding of personal finance, others to how well we follow through on them.

It’s important to note that a majority of these studies were conducted prior to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot has changed, but the data offer a snapshot of our financial health, and how well prepared we were to weather what has become a historic economic crisis.

Here are 10 statistics that illustrate the state of financial literacy in America.

No. 1: 56% of adults are financially anxious

It turns out many Americans aren’t financially literate. And they’re stressed about it.

In fact, a 2022 FINRA study found financial capability, stability, and confidence aren’t improving. Over 56% of adults say thinking about their financial situation makes them anxious. 42% think about their finances every day.

Younger Americans are feeling the greatest burden. The study found persisting and widening gaps between those who are struggling and those who are prospering financially — skewing generationally. Those between the ages of 18 to 34 have the highest levels of financial stress (69%).

The study was conducted the pandemic, but reveals positive signs of financial capability in the U.S. adult population in the face of significant labor market difficulties.

No. 2: 22% of U.S. adults lack an emergency fund

According to an analysis from Bankrate, less than half (48%) of U.S. adults don’t have enough money saved in an emergency fund.

Customary financial advice suggests families aiming to save enough to cover expenses for at least three months. This is to ensure you are able to pay your bills in the event you lose your job.

Even so, 22% of U.S. adults have no emergency savings and 30% don’t have enough to cover three months of expenses. A tremendous percentage of the population is at risk. With financial ruin one unexpected expense away, this statistic emphasizes how critical building an emergency fund is for long-term financial health.

No. 3: 61% of adults live paycheck to paycheck

According to a 2023 LendingClub report, the majority of the country (61%) is living paycheck to paycheck. Living paycheck to paycheck means you are spending most or all of your monthly income on expenses. Once essentials are paid, there’s no money left over for savings.

Americans stuck in a hand-to-mouth cycle often feel limited by their financial situation. If savings run out, what’s their Plan B? For many Americans, there isn’t one.

No. 4: Almost three quarters of Americans budget on a monthly basis

A 2023 survey revealed 74% of Americans said they have a budget and follow it to keep track of spending. But the survey also revealed 16% spend more than their monthly budget.

Maintaining a budget is a financial literacy fundamental. A budget sets the foundation for how to treat income and expenses. It ensures that needs are covered each month — essentials, like bills, debt, and savings.

It’s encouraging to see that a majority of Americans abstain employ this financial literacy basic. Without a budget how do consumers maintain confidence in their financial stability? How do they hold themselves accountable when managing money?

No. 5: Over half of youths aged 15 - 18 failed a financial literacy quiz

According to a yearly test by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC), of those aged 15 - 18 who took their National Financial Literacy Test, 52% did not achieve a passing score of 70 or more. This is troubling, as the test was designed for this age group. People ages 10 - 14 achieved and average score of 56% and people 19 - 24 recorded an average test score of 70%.

If anything, the data provides a strong case for youth financial education.

No. 6: 35 states scored a C, D, or F for high school financial literacy

Research shows states requiring students to take and pass a personal finance class, produce more informed, college-ready students. Personal finance education during formative years provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to manage their finances and increase their financial well-being.

In 2021, a national report card highlighted a discrepancy in the way states handled high school financial literacy across the country. In fact, 35 states received grades of C, D, or F for subpar efforts.

A 2022 survey of the states shows hope, but we still have a long way to go. Forty-six states now require personal finance education in their K-12 standards.

  • Twenty-five states and D.C. require a high school personal finance course to be offered.
  • Twenty-one states and D.C. require the high school course to be taken.
  • Nine states and D.C. require standardized testing.

Treating personal finance as optional robs students of the opportunity to increase their financial knowledge. That’s why experts are fighting for these courses to be mandatory across the nation.

No. 7: 90% of millennials are in debt

In 2023, student loan debt reached $1.75 trillion. And it’s crippling young Americans. Further, these debt obligations heavily impact Millennials’ views of financial success, as 25% of them have student loan debt that averages $56,538. It will take a lot to solve the current student loan debt crisis, but millennials don’t need to worry.

Student loan borrowers have options to ease the burden. If you are a student loan borrower, look into student loan refinance, consolidation, and loan forgiveness. And make sure to take advantage of the current federal student loan forbearance.

No. 8: 60% of adults had credit card debt in the past year

Americans owe a record high in credit card debt, topping $1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. And it’s hitting young people especially hard.

In fact, almost 9% of consumers ages 18 to 29 have credit card debt that is over 90 days late. Creditors report an account as delinquent once it reaches 30 days past due. So 90 days past due is marked as a serious delinquency.

Credit card debt is dangerous because the high interest rates and low minimum payments can lead to a vicious cycle of debt.

No. 9: 50% of adults experience barriers to homeownership

Homeownership is a financial milestone — touted as a pillar of the American dream. But many U.S. adults will experience financial barriers when trying to purchase a home.

The top five barriers to homeownership include, but are not limited to:

  • Rising home prices.
  • Lack of savings for a down payment or closing costs.
  • Pre-existing debt.
  • Influx of adults to expensive cities, thus limited housing options in price range.
  • Poor credit history or score.

No. 10: Less than one-third of adults are confident their retirement savings will last

Working Americans struggle to set aside money to fund short- and long-term goals. And if they do, is it enough?

According to a poll by Axios and Ipsos, over two-fifths of those aged 55 - 64 have nothing saved for retirement. 29% of workers under 55 think they’ll never retire, 75% of whom said it was because they couldn’t afford to. If Americans are concerned about retirement, then why aren’t they saving more?

The answer is prioritization. It’s easy to let long-term savings goals slip in order to prioritize current financial situations. For instance, high expenses, burdensome debt, and stagnant wages are all factors contributing to a lack of retirement savings.

Bottom line

The data doesn’t lie. Americans struggle with financial literacy. And while we’re slowly making progress, we still have a long way to go.


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