Learn the skills you need for a more financially secure life

We know that the sooner you learn the fundamentals of how money works, the more confident and effective you are going to be with your financing later in life. It is never too late to begin learning, but it is worth it to have a head start. The first steps into the world of cash begin with education.

Banking, budgeting, saving, credit, debt, and investing are the pillars that underpin the majority of the financial decisions we will make in our own lives. In Investopedia, we have over 30,000 articles, provisions, FAQs, and videos that explore these subjects, and we have spent over 20 years building and enhancing our resources that will assist you make financial and investment decisions.

This guide is a superb place to start, and now is a fantastic day to do it. Let us start with financial literacy–what it is and how can it enhance your life.

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  • Financial literacy is the ability to understand and make use of a variety of financial abilities.
  • Financial literacy in america is declining at a time when taxpayers increasingly have to make thoughtful and informed decisions to be able to prevent high levels of debt and have sufficient income in retirement.
  • Some of the fundamentals of financial literacy and its practical application in everyday life include budgeting, banking, managing credit and debt, and investing.

What’s Financial Literacy?

Financial literacy is the capacity to comprehend and make use of an assortment of financial skills, such as personal financial management, budgeting, and investing. Additionally, it involves understanding certain financial principles and concepts, like the time value of money, compound interest, managing debt, and fiscal planning.

Reaching financial literacy can help people avoid making bad financial decisions so they may get self explanatory and achieve financial stability. Key steps to attaining financial literacy include learning how to create a budget, track spending, pay off debt, and plan for retirement. Educating yourself on these topics also entails learning how money works, setting and achieving financial objectives, and handling financial challenges that life throws your way.

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The Importance of Financial Literacy

Trends in the USA indicate that financial literacy among the people is declining. In its National Financial Capability Study, conducted every couple of years, the fund and bank regulator FINRA poses a five-question evaluation that measures consumers’ knowledge regarding interest, compounding, inflation, diversification, and bond prices. In the most recent study, only 34 percent of people who took the test answered four out of five questions correctly.1

Nevertheless making informed financial decisions is more important today than ever. Take retirement planning: Employees once relied on retirement plans to finance their retirement lives, together with the fiscal burden and decision making for retirement funds borne by the firms or governments that sponsored them. Today few employees get pensions and rather are offered the choice of engaging in a 401(k) program , which involves decisions on participation levels and investment options. Add to the people’s increasing lifespans (resulting in more retirements), Social Security benefits that hardly provide enough for basic survival, more intricate savings and investment tools to select one of, and various options from banks, credit unions, brokerage firms, credit card companies, and more, and it is apparent that financial literacy is vital for making thoughtful and informed decisions, avoiding high levels of debt, and having sufficient income in retirement.

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Personal Finance Principles

Personal finance is where financial literacy translates into individual financial decision making. How can you handle your money? What investment and savings vehicles are you currently using? Personal finance is about making and fulfilling personal financial objectives, whether that is owning a house, saving for your children’s college education, planning for retirement, and much more. Among other topics, it encompasses banking, budgeting, managing credit and debt, and investing. Let us take a look at these basics to get you started.

Intro to Bank Accounts

Bank accounts are generally the first financial account you will open, and are necessary for important purchases and lifestyle events. Following is a breakdown of that bank accounts you ought to open and why they are step one in developing a stable financial future.

Why do I need a bank account?

While the vast majority of Americans do have bank accounts, 6 percent of households in the USA still do not have accounts.2 Why is it so important to start a bank account? Since they are safer than holding cash. Assets held in a bank are more difficult to steal, and in america, they are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).3 This means that you’ll always have access to your money, even if each customer chose to withdraw their money at exactly the exact same time.


Many financial transactions require you to have a bank account to be able to:

  • Use a debit or credit card
  • Utilize payment apps like Venmo or PayPal
  • Write a check
  • Use an ATM
  • Purchase or rent a House
  • Get your paycheck from your employer
  • Earn interest on your cash

Online vs. brick-and-mortar banks

When you think about a lender, you probably envision a construction in your town. This is known as a”brick-and-mortar” bank. It means the bank has a physical construction. Many brick-and-mortar banks also permit you to open accounts and manage your money online.

Some banks are just online and don’t have any physical buildings. These banks typically offer the same services as brick-and-mortar banks, besides the ability to see them in person.

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What sort of bank can I use?

Retail banks: This is the most common sort of bank people have accounts with. Retail banks are for-profit businesses that provide savings and checking accounts, loans, credit cards, and insurance. Retail banks may have physical, in-person buildings which you can see, or be online-only. Most have both. Banks’ online technology will be sophisticated, and they frequently have more places and ATMs nationwide than credit unions.

Credit unions: Credit unions provide checking and savings accounts, issue loans, and provide other financial products, just like banks. However, they function under the direction of elected board members. Credit unions generally have lower prices and better rates of interest on savings accounts and loans. Credit unions are sometimes known for providing more personalized customer service, although they often have far fewer branches and ATMs.

Assets held in a credit union are insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is equal to the FDIC for banks.

What kinds of bank accounts can I open?

There are 3 main types of bank accounts the typical person will open:

  1. Savings account: A savings account is an interest-bearing deposit account held in a bank or other financial institution. Savings accounts typically cover a little rate of interest, and their security and reliability make them a fantastic choice for saving money you need available for short-term demands. They generally have some limitations on how frequently it is possible to withdraw money, but they are generally incredibly elastic, so they are best for building an emergency fund, saving for a short-term target such as purchasing a car or going on holiday, or just storing extra money you do not need in your checking account.
  2. Checking account: A checking account can also be a deposit account in a bank or other financial company which permits you to make deposits and withdrawals. Checking accounts are extremely liquid, meaning that they allow numerous deposits and withdrawals per month, as opposed to less-liquid investment or savings accounts, although they earn little to no interest. Money can be deposited at banks and ATMs through direct deposit or other electronic transfer. Account holders may withdraw money via banks and ATMs by writing checks or using debit cards paired with their accounts.
  3. High-yield savings account: A high-yield savings account is another sort of savings account which usually pays attention 20 to 25 times greater than the national average of a conventional savings account. The trade-off for earning more interest on your cash is that high-yield accounts often require larger initial deposits, bigger minimum balances, and much more fees.

You might have the ability to start a high-yield savings account at your current bank, but online banks generally have the maximum rates of interest.

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency finance isn’t a particular kind of bank account, but may be any source of money you’ve saved to assist you manage financial hardships like job losses, medical debts, or car repairs. How they work:

  • Many people use a separate savings account
  • Deposits should complete sufficient to pay three-to-six weeks’ worth of expenses
  • Emergency fund money should be off-limits for paying for routine expenses

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Introduction to Credit Cards

You know them as the plastic cards (nearly ) everybody carries in their pockets. Credit cards are accounts that permit you to borrow money from the credit card issuer and pay them back with time. For each month you don’t repay the money in full, you will owe the amount you spent, plus interest, to the issuer. Be aware that some credit cards really ask you to pay them back in full monthly, though this is not as common.

What is the difference between debit and credit cards?

This is the distinction : Debit cards take money directly from your checking account. You can not borrow money with debit cards, so you can not spend more money than you have in the bank. Credit cards, on the other hand, do permit you to borrow money, nor pull cash from the bank account. While this may be helpful for large, sudden purchases, carrying a balance (not paying back the money you borrowed) monthly means you will pay attention to the credit card issuer. By the third quarter of 2020, Americans owed $810 billion dollars of credit card debt, so be very cautious when spending more money than you have, as debt can build up fast and snowball over time.4

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What is APR?

APR stands for yearly percentage rate. This is the total amount of interest you will pay the credit card issuer as well as the amount of money you spent on the card. You will want to pay close attention to this number when you apply for a credit card. A greater number can cost you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars if you take a large balance over time. The typical APR is about 20 percent , but your speed might be greater if you have poor credit. Interest rates also tend to vary by the kind of credit card.

Which credit card should I choose?

Credit scores have a large effect on your probability of getting approved for a credit card. Knowing what range your score falls in will help you narrow the choices as you decide which cards to apply for. Beyond your credit rating, you will also need to choose which perks best fit your lifestyle and spending habits.

If you have never had a credit card before, or if you have terrible credit, you will likely have to apply for a guaranteed credit card or a subprime credit card.

If you have fair to good credit, you can choose from a variety of credit card kinds:

  • Travel rewards cards. These credit cards earn points redeemable for travel like flights, hotels, and cars with every dollar spent.
  • Money back cards. If you do not travel often or do not need to deal with switching points to real life perks, a cash back card could be the best match for you. Every month, you will be given some of your spending back, in cash or as a credit to your statement.
  • Balance transfer cards. For those who have accounts on other cards with higher rates of interest, transferring your balance to a lower-rate credit card could save you money and help your credit rating.
  • Low-APR cards. If you routinely carry a balance from month to month, switching to a credit card with a low APR can save you hundreds of dollars annually in interest payments.

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How to Create a Budget

Developing a budget is one of the easiest and best methods to control your spending, saving, and investing. You can’t start or improve your financial health if you don’t know where your money is going, so begin tracking your expenditures vs. your earnings, then set clear targets.

1 budget template that helps people reach their objectives, manage their money, and save for retirement and disasters is your 50/20/30 budget rule–spending 50 percent on wants, 20% on savings, and 30 percent on needs.

How do I make a budget?

Budgeting starts with monitoring how much money you get each month, minus how much money you spend each month. You can monitor this in an Excel sheet, on paper, or in a budgeting app–it is your choice. Wherever you monitor your budget, clearly lay out the following:

  • Income: List all sources of cash you get in a month, with the dollar amount. This can consist of paychecks, investment income, alimony, settlements, and much more.
  • Expenses: List each purchase you make in a month, divide into two classes –fixed expenses and discretionary spending. If you can not remember where you are spending money, review your bank statements, credit card bills, and brokerage account statements. Fixed expenses are the purchases you have to make each month, and whose numbers do not change (or change very little), and are considered essential. Including rent/mortgage payments, loan payments, and utilities. Discretionary spending is the nonessential, or varying purchases you make on things like restaurant food, shopping, clothes, and travel. Consider them as”needs” instead of”needs.”
  • Savings: Document the total amount of money you are saving every month, whether it’s in cash, money deposited into a financial institution account, or investments in a brokerage account.

Now that you’ve got a very clear picture of cash coming in, money going out, and money saved, you can identify which expenses you can cut back on if needed. Subtract the number of expenses from your total income, and this is the sum of money you’ve left at the end of the month. If you do not already have one, put your extra cash into an emergency fund to save three-to-six weeks’ worth of expenses in the event of a job loss or other emergency. Do not use this money for discretionary spending. The important thing is to keep it secure and grow it for times when your income decreases or stops.

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How to Begin Investing

If you are ready to get started investing, you will want to understand the fundamentals of where and how to spend your money. Choose what you invest in and how much you spend by understanding the dangers of different kinds of investments.

What’s the stock exchange?

The stock exchange denotes the group of markets and exchanges where stock buying and selling occurs. The terms stock exchange and stock market are used interchangeably, and though it’s known as a stock exchange, other monetary securities such as exchange traded funds (ETF), corporate bonds and derivatives based on stocks, commodities, currencies, and bonds are also traded at the stock markets. There are a number of stock trading venues. The top stock exchanges in the U.S. comprise the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), Nasdaq, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).

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How do I invest?

To purchase stocks, you want to use a agent . This is a professional individual or electronic platform whose job it is to handle the transaction for you. For new investors, there are 3 basic categories of agents to choose from:

  1. A full-service agent , who oversees your investment transactions and gives guidance for a fee.
  2. An online/discount agent that implements your transactions and provides some guidance, based on how much you’ve invested. Examples include Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Charles Schwab.
  3. A roboadvisor, which implements your transactions and can select investments for you. Examples include Betterment, Wealthfront, and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios.

What if I invest in?

There’s no perfect answer for everybody. What securities you purchase, and how much you buy, depends on the sum of money you are comfortable with, and how much risk you are prepared to take. Here are the most common securities to invest in, in descending order of danger:

Stocks: A stock (also called”stocks” or”equity”) is a kind of investment that signifies ownership in the issuing firm. This frees the stockholder to that percentage of the corporation’s assets and earnings. Essentially, it is like owning a little part of the business. But if you have 33 percent of the shares of a business, it’s erroneous to assert that you have one-third of that firm; it’s instead correct to say that you own 100 percent of one-third of the provider’s shares. Shareholders can’t do as they please with a business or its assets.

Owning stock provides you the right to vote in shareholder meetings, receive dividends (which are the provider’s profits) if and when they’re distributed, and market your stocks to somebody else. The price of a stock varies during the day, and may depend on several factors, including the business’s performance, the domestic market, the global economy, information, and much more. Investing in stocks can be considered insecure because you are effectively”putting all your eggs in one basket.”

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ETFs: An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a sort of security that involves a selection of securities–such as shares –which frequently tracks an underlying indicator , although ETFs can invest in numerous industry sectors or utilize various strategies. Consider ETFs as a pie containing many unique securities. When you purchase shares of an ETF, you are purchasing a slice of this pie, which comprises slivers of these securities inside. This permits you to purchase many stocks at the same time, with the simplicity of just making one purchase–the ETF.

ETFs are in many ways very similar to mutual fundsnonetheless, they are listed on exchanges and ETF shares trade during the day the same as ordinary stock. Investing in ETFs is considered less risky than investing in stocks since there are lots of securities within the ETF. If some go down in value, others may maintain or increase in value.

Mutual funds: A mutual fund is a sort of investment comprising a portfolio of shares, bonds, or other securities. Mutual funds give individual or small investors access to diversified, professionally managed portfolios in a minimal price. There are lots of categories, representing the sorts of securities they invest in, their investment goals, and the sort of returns they seek. Most employer-sponsored retirement programs invest in mutual funds.

Purchasing a share of a mutual fund differs from investing in shares of stock. Unlike stock, mutual fund shares don’t provide holders any voting rights and reflect investments in several different stocks (or other securities) instead of just one holding. Unlike stocks or ETFs that trade through the day, many mutual fund redemptions​ occur just at the end of every trading day. Much like ETFs, investing in mutual funds is considered less risky than stocks since many securities are included within the mutual fund, spreading the risk across multiple businesses.

Mutual funds charge annual fees, known as expense ratios, and sometimes, commissions.

Bonds: Bonds are issued by companies, municipalities, states, and sovereign governments to fund projects and operations. When an investor buys a bond, they are effectively loaning their money to the bond issuer, together with the guarantee of repayment and interest. A bond’s coupon rate is the interest rate the investor will earn. A bond is known as a fixed income instrument since bonds traditionally paid a fixed rate of interest (coupon) to investors. Bond prices are inversely correlated with interest rates: when prices go up, bond prices fall and vice versa. Bonds have maturity dates, which are the point in time once the principal amount has to be repaid in full or risk default.

Bonds are rated by how likely the issuer would be to pay you back. Higher rated bonds, called investment grade bonds, are seen as safer and more secure investments. Such offerings are tied to publicly traded corporations and government entities which boast positive outlooks. Investment grade bonds include”AAA” to”BBB-” ratings from Standard and Poor’s, and”Aaa” to”Baa3″ ratings from Moody’s. Investment grade bonds usually see bond yields increase as evaluations decrease. U.S. Treasury bonds are the most frequent AAA-rated bond securities.

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