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3 Scary Personal Finance Stats

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Welcome to April, which is National Financial Literacy Month. It’s a good thing we have an official month for this because, according to the results of the 2012 National Financial Literacy Survey, many of us could use a little more literacy when it comes to our finances.

The report, released by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (NBPCA), showed that 42 percent of Americans give themselves a C, D, or F when it comes to their knowledge of personal finance and these grades are in line with the rest of the survey results.

I commend people who were honest, but I have to wonder if the numbers aren’t actually even worse. The survey was conducted by telephone and that sometimes creates a “subject bias.” This means that the respondent might give the interviewer what they think is the “correct” answer. It’s tough to admit over the phone that you carry credit card debt or don’t have any idea where your money’s going.

At any rate, the results are a tad scary. Here are a few stats that stood out to me from the survey:

39% Carry Credit Card Debt

This is roughly the same number as last year (40 percent), so at least things aren’t getting worse. But this is a precarious position to be in.

If you’re one of these folks, and it’s at all possible, stop using your cards and focus on paying down the debt. I suspect, though, that some of those in this group are carrying debt because they don’t have the cash flow to pay the bills off every month.

If you must carry a balance, use the card with the lowest interest rate. And if you have excellent credit, check out zero percent APR credit cards. Do whatever you can to minimize your interest expense. You can find more coping strategies in a blog I wrote recently, 5 Credit Card Survival Strategies I Learned from The Walking Dead.

56% Don’t Have a Budget

I think this is more significant than carrying credit card debt because this is the very type of thing that can totally screw up your finances. This is especially true right now because many of us haven’t recovered from the recession.

“Times are still really tough for a lot of people, and many are just trying to make ends meet. But taking time to think about where your money goes – whether you call it a spending plan or a budget – can have a big pay off. That’s true even if your income has been cut,” says Gerri Detweiler, Director of Consumer Education for Credit.com.

A budget or a spending plan doesn’t have to be a complicated analysis with a gazillion spreadsheets. I admit I used to be terrible at creating a budget. Once I started using money management software, it was so much easier to maintain.

A few online tools I recommend checking out: Mvelopes, Mint, which now has free apps for smart phones, and MySpendingPlan.

40% Are Saving Less Than Last Year

Even if you’re not in the group that carries credit card debt or doesn’t have a budget, it’s tough to save money. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that saving even $20 here and there can add up during lean times.

But if you aren’t saving money due to disorganization or overspending, then take time to get your finances in order. When you do put together a budget, you’ll have a clear idea of how much you can put into a savings account. And I’m not talking about retirement—I’m talking about an emergency savings account so you’re not wiped out financially if disaster hits.

Shoot to have at least six months of living expenses in your savings. Once you meet that goal, set your sights on having a year of living expenses in your emergency account.

Image: illustir, via Flickr

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