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Majority of UK adults do not understand finances

MOST people cannot calculate the cheapest loans, energy tariffs or even deals on groceries, while 70% of savers cannot work out which accounts offer the highest interest.

That was the sobering outcome when researchers from the Open University Business School recently asked a cross- section of the population to answer questions currently on the financial education syllabus. They were shocked by the results.

Over two-thirds of UK adults answered personal finance school exam questions incorrectly, with three out of ten scoring 43 per cent or less.

Now the OUBS has launched an eight-week online course aimed at people with all levels of financial literacy, with learners expected to commit to around three hours of study each week.

Today's youngsters are benefitting from the recent addition of financial education to the school curriculum.

But those lessons may have arrived too late for a generation of older Scots whose adult lives are blighted by poor numeracy and scant financial knowledge.

The school exam questions which so many failed covered savings, tax, currency exchange and utilities. Consumers admitted that their current lack of financial knowledge was stopping them from making informed decisions around mortgages (44 per cent) and pensions (43 per cent) right down to everyday products such as ISAs (32 per cent) loans (29 per cent) and credit cards (20 per cent).

The OUBS said: "The research also suggested ignorance really isn't bliss, with 42 per cent of people admitting that their personal finances give them stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. This figure rises to 60 per cent for the 25 to 34 year old age group and falls to just 29 per cent for the over-55s."

The research also revealed that almost half of all UK adults never keep a household budget, while a third suffer a monthly deficit with more going out than they have coming in. This leads to more than one in seven adults regularly exceeding their agreed overdraft and incurring significant bank charges, adding to their financial woes.

A separate survey conducted by Scottish Friendly last month found that half of the population do not know the difference between a cash and an investment Isa. Their ignorance may have cost them dearly over the last five years, as the mutual calculated that an average UK all-companies investment Isa has earned £1,279 more than a lacklustre savings Isa.

Neil Lovatt, director of savings at Scottish Friendly, said: "People will naturally sway towards a cash ISA as it is the simplest to understand and there are a number of misconceptions floating around about what it means to invest in a stocks and shares ISA.

"With most cash ISAs currently offering poor returns, one thing that may be holding people back is a lack of understanding about how investment ISAs work."

Even those who pride themselves on being financially capable may be surprised at how much they fall short of their ideals. Confident consumers are being challenged to use Britain's Money Management Barometer to find out whether their intention to save, invest, steer clear of debt and stick to budgets translates into reality.

Dr Martin Samy at Leeds Business School has devised the quiz, available on the TD Direct Investing website, to help people understand their true relationship with money. He said: "Relationships of any kind are created through the two factors of perception and behaviour. It is the difference between how you perceive yourself and how you act that provides you with an index or score that simply assesses your relationship with money and, in turn, helps you to make effective financial decisions."

The online OUBS course is run with the True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance.

David Harrison, managing partner of True Potential LLP, said: "Investing and finance can be simple to understand subjects that are frequently made very complicated and inaccessible. We have set up this centre to democratise finance and make financial education more readily available.

"These courses will arm people with the knowledge and information they need to make informed decisions about their finances, or to ask the right questions of the right people."

If your financial weak-spots are keeping you awake at night, you may find a new tool from the Money Advice Service helpful. The "Money Worries" interactive tool asks a series of questions to determine the impact of financial concerns on your wellbeing before pointing you towards other resources, like the site's budget planner and money health check, that should help to get you back on track.

Ian Williams, spokesman for Debt Advisory Centre Scotland, says: "Many of the people we speak to have left it so long to get help and support with their worries about problem debt they admit the stress has started to affect their wellbeing. That's why it's so important to seek out the support that's needed as soon as possible."

Meanwhile this week RBS launched a new version of its 'Pigby' money-saving app for children.

Designed by Aardman Animations, it features an interactive playground to inspire kids to save in the bank's First Saver account.

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Finance

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