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Swimming in the Real-World Financial Pool

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Shahar Ziv; Huffington Post 7/12/2012

Summer always brings a certain excitement as a new crop of freshly minted college graduates descends upon Manhattan and other cities, ready to take on the world. But while these young adults come armed with diplomas, a new wardrobe, and endless ambition, most lack a solid grasp of what it means to be financially literate. Today's graduates are diving into the real-world financial pool without even the basic strokes of personal finance. As the recent financial crisis has illuminated, not only is the water quite deep, but there are also plenty of sharks and, unfortunately, not as many lifeguards as we would have hoped.

A fundamental shift in risk, most notably in the transition from guaranteed pensions to individual retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, means that the economy that today's graduates enter is structurally different from the one of previous generations. Simultaneously, most Americans, young and old, display a strikingly low level of financial literacy. A 2010 Financial Literacy Survey of adults, conducted on behalf of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Inc., revealed that 34 percent of U.S. adults (over 76 million people) gave themselves a grade of C, D, or F on their knowledge of personal finance. On questions dealing with compound interest, inflation, and risk diversification, studies by Professors Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia Mitchell show significantly low rates of understanding among the general population and specifically among certain demographics including women, African Americans, and Hispanics.

The lack of financial sophistication in the United States has severe consequences. Academic research has found that individuals who are not financially literate are less likely to plan for and accumulate retirement wealth, participate in the stock market, and refinance mortgages during periods of falling rates. More