Your Money

Scary financial tasks make most people run the other way

Key Points
  • Consumers of all ages find several financial tasks difficult and confusing, according to a new survey. 
  • Painful areas include “knowing how to find resources to plan financially in retirement” and “choosing appropriate investments.”
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Scary finances? Run away.

That's the consensus of Americans surveyed in a report from Hearts & Wallets, which studies U.S. retail investors. The study uses data about consumer attitudes, behaviors and buying patterns of more than 5,400 U.S. households gathered in July.

Two top areas for those in or nearing retirement: finding resources to plan financially in retirement and developing strategies for making withdrawals from several accounts.

When it comes to handling their finances, most people are winging it, the report shows. People are likeliest to seek help choosing the right investments, but that still accounts for only 18 percent of those who are still working and saving for retirement — labeled "accumulators" by Hearts & Wallets.

"Consumers get confused or default to inertia because they don't understand which solution out of the wide range of offerings in the marketplace fits their specific needs," said Laura Varas, CEO and founder of Hearts & Wallets.

"Getting started is the hardest part," said Emily Sanders, managing director of advisory firm United Capital Atlanta.

Disorganization, anxiety over the amount of time it might take, not having the right documents and shame can also stand in someone's way.

"[People] know they haven't managed their money well, and they don't want to be confronted with the truth," Sanders said.

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We all have tapes playing in our heads that go back to childhood, Sanders says. These messages, which stem from family conversations, might be that it's not polite to talk about money. "It could be families who are in debt and embarrassed to talk about it," she said.

Some family stories and memories of money can be positive. "Perhaps someone's grandfather helped her with money to go to college, so she wants to help her children or grandchildren," Sanders said.

Whatever the message, it's important not to let them prevent you from going forward with your financial life.

First, know your net worth. "Assets minus liabilities equals net worth," Sanders said. "Many people don't know this simple formula." It's a good starting point, because it helps you to figure out if you are in a deep hole because of credit card debt or student loans or another liability.

Another marker to identify is your credit score. Next, set your goals and priorities. "You can't make a plan if you don't have specific goals," Sanders said.

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Then, start researching. See what's out there. "Nowadays, there isn't much you can't find by looking it up on the internet," Sanders said. "Speak to trusted friends who are good role models."

If your company offers a 401(k) plan, start saving that way. "Become knowledgeable about your company's benefits, and participate even if you have to start small," Sanders said.

Last item on your list should be to expect the unexpected. "It's a horrible thought, but it's something to think about," Sanders said. "Envision what your family situation would be if you died prematurely.

"Insurance should totally be part of that checklist," she added.

Since many companies offer insurance as a benefit, it also ties back to the importance of knowing what your company offers.

Many people equate organizing their finances with going to the dentist. "It's difficult to say you need help and admit that to yourself," Sanders said. "You just have to get over the fear."