Dollars & Sense

Improving financial literacy, at home and internationally

Would you be surprised to learn that parents in many poorer countries often spend considerably more time talking with their children about money management than in wealthier countries like the United States? I was.

That’s just one interesting nugget revealed at the sixth annual Financial Literacy and Education Summit recently hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Visa Inc. Renowned U.S. and international financial experts tackled the theme “International Solutions to Improving Financial Literacy,” sharing successes and challenges faced in their own countries, as well as presenting new research that explores ways that financial knowledge and behavior can be improved.

Janet Bodner, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, shared findings from the 2012 Global Financial Barometer, a recently completed study. Some 25,500 global participants were asked about their personal financial habits and opinions. Assessing that data, the study ranked the financial literacy levels of people in 28 countries. Among the more interesting findings:

  • Brazil topped the list as having the most financially literate people, followed by Mexico, Australia, the U.S., and Canada.
  • 68 percent of survey respondents had less than three months’ worth of emergency reserves to fund basic needs during an unexpected financial event like job loss.
  • 25 percent of high-income respondents had less than three months of living expenses in savings. In the U.S., for example, the average person had only 2.9 months of expenses saved.
  • Mexico and Brazil topped the list of places where parents talk to their kids ages 5 to 17 about money most often, with Mexicans talking to their kids at least 41.7 days a year and Brazilians 38.1. American families were in the middle of the pack at about 25.8 days out of the year.
  • When asked at what age governments should require schools to teach financial literacy, U.S. respondents ranked near the bottom at 11.9 years. By comparison, more than half of Brazilians surveyed believe such education should begin before age 9.
  • In over half the countries, a majority believe that teens and young adults do not understand financial basics, such as budgeting, savings, debt, and spending responsibly.

Bodner noted that these results add to our body of knowledge about financial literacy. “You first have to identify what the problems are in your particular country, city or school, and then determine what is effective in handling those situations,” she said. A more detailed summary of the barometer’s key findings can be found at

William Walstad, an economics professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, presented an-other interesting study that showed people who scored poorly on a financial literacy test but were confident in their money-management abilities exhibited similar abilities to manage credit cards as did those with stronger test skills. Conversely, those who had high test scores but lacked confidence displayed much more negative credit behavior. Walstad said these findings suggest that building confidence has a strong role to play in
financial education.

Bottom line
: The panelists agreed that all of the countries represented share many of the same challenges for boosting financial literacy, including gaining wide access for programs to be tested, evaluating their results, and the fact that each has very diverse populations with different needs at different periods in their lives.

To watch a free webcast of the Financial Literacy and Education Summit, visit the website

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice.
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