NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the economy seeks equilibrium, most Americans feel they are still behind the curve when it comes to understanding their money.
More than half of Americans surprisingly still do not have a budget and a large percent of adults give themselves failing grades when it comes to financial literacy a poll conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found.
"This year's survey once again confirms what we already know: the need for financial education is great," said Susan Keating, president and CEO of the NFCC. "Without a solid foundation on which to base everyday financial decisions, Americans are on a slippery slope as they begin to rebuild their financial lives following the Great Recession."
The Harris Poll surveyed more than 2,000 adults in the U.S., and showed a significant lack of knowledge about budgeting, saving and credit. The poll revealed that despite a massive amount of education available to Americans, 61% still do not have a budget — the largest percentage since 2008 — and 41% of the survey respondents gave themselves a failing grade when it came to financial literacy.
The lack of a budget may explain why one in three adults surveyed indicated their household carries credit card debt from month-to-month, with 15% of those rolling over $2,500 or more monthly.
Two other issues relating to budgeting also topped the chart as to the aspect of personal finance that is most worrisome. The top concerns — both registering 16% of those polled — were insufficient "rainy day" savings for an emergency and retiring without having enough money set aside.
While consumers may feel somewhat uncomfortable with their savings, they apparently don't feel all that uncomfortable, as the proportion of adults who are spending less continues to decline — from a high in 2009 of 57% to a low of 29% in 2014.
The increased spending and high rollover month to month also may be a reason why few seek out to check their credit scores or credit reports. Only 40% of those surveyed reviewed their credit score and 35% their credit report within the past 12 months.
Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of marketing for Experian Consumer Services, which sponsored the poll, said people get into a habit of checking their credit report and score, since credit knowledge is such an important part of understanding personal finance.
"In today's environment, it's especially important that consumers check their credit report regularly to spot signs of fraud and better understand what affects their credit so they can make informed financial decisions," Chaplin said.
Nearly one in four adults who did not order their credit report in the past 12 months said they already knew their credit score so it was not necessary; of course, that's despite the fact that credit reports and credit scores being two different expressions of a person's credit. Another illustration of this confusion is 54% of adults mistakenly believe that a standard credit report typically contains a person's credit score.
John Ulzheimer, a credit expert at CreditSesame.com, said it's not uncommon to be confused about reports and scores.
"Not only do consumers not understand the difference between credit reports and credit scores, but many people who are actually in the credit industry don't know the difference," Ulzheimer said.
He added the difference between the two is that reports are the collection of information including liabilities, public records, identification and inquiries, while a score is simply the grading of that information in the form of a three-digit number.
Ulzheimer said it is important — and easy — for consumers to be aware of their credit reports and credit scores.
"Your credit reports change multiple times every month as your accounts are updated," Ulzheimer said. "Checking that information only once per year isn't adequate given how important our credit reports and credit scores are to our financial well being. Plus, given the fact that you can get so much of your credit report and credit score information for free, it doesn't make sense to not become much more engaged."
The study was not totally devoid of good news for the U.S. consuming populace, as nearly three-fourth of U.S. adults agree they could still benefit from advice and answers to everyday financial questions from a professional. Also, 27% said if they were having financial problems related to debt, they would contact a professional non-profit credit-counseling agency for assistance.
Keating said for those wanting to become more financial literate — or relearn forgotten skills — the NFCC developed the three-step Sharpen Your Financial Focus program, which provides consumers with personal finance tools and tips.
--Written by Chris Metinko for MainStreet