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Do you have better money smarts than the typical consumer?

10/14: MoneyWatch

If it’s true that knowledge is power, then most people are fairly powerless when it comes to money.

A new survey from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development finds consumers across the world have dismal knowledge of basic financial concepts. On top of that, consumers tend to flunk out when it comes to their behaviors and attitudes toward money, such as whether they keep a budget.

Consumers are increasingly handling complex financial issues that previous generations didn’t have to deal with, ranging from student loans to funding their retirements. But many Americans don’t learn the basics of financial literacy -- either at school or from their parents -- and can end up making ill-informed decisions as a result. One survey found that a majority of college students are know-nothingswhen it comes to their own loans, unaware of basics such as their interest rates and terms. 

“Low levels of financial literacy (and in particular knowledge) in the adult population underline the importance of building such competencies early in life and ideally in schools,” the OECD said in its report.

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So how badly did people perform on the test? The average score was just 13.2 out of 21, which the OECD says is “relatively low.” The problems range from low financial knowledge, to “problematic” behaviors.

The study examined people in 30 countries and economies, including 17 countries in the OECD. The U.S., however, didn’t participate, although it’s not likely that Americans would have scored particularly well. One study from 2014 found that about six out of 10 American adults are financially illiterate, compared with about three out of 10 people worldwide. 

Only 56 percent of adults who participated in the OECD survey received the minimum target score. Several trouble spots emerged for basic financial concepts, such as compound interest, which wasn’t understood by many adults, and a lack of awareness that investment risk can be lowered through diversification.

The gender divide was also notable, with about six out of 10 men meeting the minimum threshold, compared with just five out of 10 women.

Broken down by country, France’s citizens ranked at the top of the list, with a score of 14.9, followed by Finland, Norway, Canada, and Hong Kong. The country with the least financially literate citizens was Poland, with a score of 11.6.

So, are you smarter than the average world citizen? Below are several questions from the test, with the answers in parentheses below.

1. Imagine that five siblings are given a gift of $1,000 in total. If the siblings have to share the money equally, how much does each one get?

2. You lend $25 to a friend one evening and he gives you $25 back the next day. How much interest has he paid on this loan?

3. Suppose you put $100 into a savings account with a guaranteed interest rate of 2% per year. You don’t make any further payments into this account and you don’t withdraw any money. How much would be in the account at the end of the first year, once the interest payment is made?

4. True or false: If someone offers you the chance to make a lot of money it is likely that there is also a chance that you will lose a lot of money.

5. True or false: High inflation means that the cost of living is increasing rapidly.

6. True or false: It is usually possible to reduce the risk of investing in the stock market by buying a wide range of stocks and shares.

(Answers: $200, none, $102, true, true, true.)

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