FINRA found respondents age 55-plus got a mean 3.3 answers out of 5 correct versus 2.9 for those in the 35-to-54 bracket and 2.3 for those age 18 to 34. "The reality is among those 55 and older; they're still getting a lot wrong," she said.
To that end, in recent years financial literacy programs, debt counselors, financial institutions and employers have made new efforts to help adults improve their money-management skills. In its 2013 Workplace Benefits Report, Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that 70 percent of the more than 1,000 employers it surveyed now offer workers one-on-one access to financial advisors, up from 56 percent a year earlier.
Still, the idea of a continuing financial education can go against the grain for many consumers. "There is a gap between how we perceive ourselves and how we test out," said Walsh. "We think we're good at managing our money. But when you start slicing and dicing that data, you see there are people who give themselves high marks...but overdraw their checking account or carry a balance on their credit card."
Pamela Thornton of Yeadon, Penn., wasn't sure she needed a refresher on budgeting and saving when a neighbor asked her to come along to a financial literacy workshop through nonprofit Clarifi. "I thought I was already financially situated," said Thornton, 52.
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The workshop turned out to be a game-changer, helping Thornton reassess the bank accounts she was using and find new ways to kick her savings into high gear. Opening her own bakery, something she'd thought out of reach, suddenly seemed doable. "I was so overwhelmed with what they had taught me," she said. Pound Cake Heaven now has two locations, and Thornton plans to take more classes to better run the business.