Do you remember how you first learned to manage your personal finances? Did anyone sit you down to show you how to balance a budget? Explain how interest works? What about the importance of a good credit score? Without these important money management lessons, it would be a lot harder to reach your financial goals. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test. Fortunately, April is National Financial Literacy Month-- the perfect time for Americans to brush up on their financial education. To help Americans get a better grasp on their finances, the Massachusetts Society of CPAs, presents the following alarming personal finance trends and tips for how to navigate them.
Fewer Americans are following a budget
The Great Recession was devastating financially. It saw millions of Americans lose their homes and their retirement savings. It also created a generation of Americans who are likely to be worse off financially than their parents. One of the only silver linings was that it caused people to take a closer look at their financial habits. However, as the economy has continued to pick up steam over the past few years, it seems these lessons are starting to fade. A recent American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) survey found that the percent of Americans following a monthly budget has declined from 58 percent in 2015 to 39 percent in 2018. Knowing how much you have coming in compared to how much you’ve committed to spend on things like rent, car payment, insurance and other bills is essential because that number dictates how much you must spend on things like groceries and achieve your financial goals like paying off debt faster. Using an a free online budget analysis calculator can help you understand where your money is going and identify areas for improvement.
Debt is rising and rainy-day funds are lacking
Earlier this year, U.S. consumer debt reached $4 trillion for the first time ever-- with one trillion of that figure consisting of credit card debt alone, which is also the highest number on record. Debt isn’t necessarily bad. But it’s important to have a plan to pay it off without incurring high interest charges and ensure that you never miss a payment. If your credit card debt feels like it’s too tough to tackle, tools like a credit card payoff calculator can help you develop a plan. There are many options – some start with the highest interest rate debt, while others prefer to pay off smaller balances first so they have fewer outstanding accounts. The important thing is that once you’re armed with a plan, stick with it. Because if you’re diligent about tackling your debt, you’ll eventually get to a zero balance – which means a fresh start!
Unfortunately, living paycheck-to-paycheck while struggling to pay off debt is the reality for many Americans. So, it’s not surprising that forty percent of all Americans can’t cover a $400 financial emergency without borrowing cash or selling their possessions. That’s why emergency savings are so critical – for those unpredictable situations. To get started on an emergency fund, set a reasonable goal at first, setting aside a manageable portion of each paycheck. As your fund grows to meet your initial goal, make a mental note of what the money can be used for (unexpected job loss, damage from a natural disaster, medical emergency, etc.) and don’t touch the money for any other reason.
Your CPA can help!
CPAs in Massachusetts and all across the country have long been volunteering their time to help Americans make better financial decisions. If you’re having trouble with your finances, your CPA can help! Refer to the MSCPA’s Find a CPA Directory to find a CPA that can help you locate one in your area: mscpaonline.org/find.