那么，如果我说这句话显然低估了实际情况，大家会怎么想呢？美国卫生和公众服务部（Department of Human Health and Services）的数据显示，每分钟有7.6个美国人出生，而确凿证据表明其中有5个会成为理财方面的“笨蛋”。
密歇根大学（University of Michigan）健康和退休研究项目发现，在50岁及以上的美国人中，只有约三分之一的人能正确回答三个简单的问题：复利是怎么回事？通胀对个人储蓄和投资收益意味着什么？一只股票和一只共同基金有哪些基本差异？
2008年，达特茅斯学院（Dartmouth College）金融学教授肯尼思•弗兰奇在他的研究中估算，为了“跑赢大市”，美国投资者每年都要支付约1000亿美元的手续费和其他费用，却不愿用这笔钱投资手续费较低，专门跟踪大盘的指数基金。2006年，哈佛大学（Harvard University）经济学家约翰•坎贝尔估算，由于在按揭融资方面决策欠妥，住房业主每年都要损失500亿美元以上。类似的研究层出不穷，从发薪日贷款到信用卡再到退休金融产品，它们的结论都是：财务知识匮乏让美国人多花了数十亿美元。
We’ve all heard the saying, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Well, what if I were to tell you that this is a gross underestimate? According to the Department of Human Health and Services, there are about 7.6 Americans born every minute, and there’s good evidence that about five of them will grow up to be “suckers” when it comes to financial literacy.
The University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study found that only about one third of Americans ages 50 and older were able to correctly answer three simple questions about how compound interest works, what inflation means for one’s savings and investment gains, and the basic differences between a single stock and a mutual fund.
In the latest addition to a body of economic research that shows Americans’ striking financial illiteracy, a study by economists Benjamin Keys, Devin Pope, and Jaren Pope examined Americans’ refinancing habits during the worst of the financial crisis, when the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve were doing their utmost to get people to refinance their mortgages and take advantage of low interest rates. According to the paper:
“We estimate that approximately 20% of households for whom refinancing would be optimal and who appeared unconstrained to do so, had not taken advantage of the lower rates. We estimate the present-discounted cost to the household who fails to refinance to be approximately $11,500, making this a particularly large consumer financial mistake.”
Altogether, this failure to refinance cost these consumers, and presumably the economy at large, $5.4 billion. And this estimate is actually on the conservative side of the spectrum.
A 2008 study by Dartmouth finance professor Kenneth French estimated that investors in the U.S. pay roughly $100 billion per year in fees and other expenses in an attempt to “beat the market” rather than investing in low-fee index funds that track the broader performance of the stock market. And a 2006 study from Harvard economist John Campbell estimated that poor decisions concerning mortgage financing costs homeowners more than $50 billion annually. The list goes on, from payday loans to credit cards to retirement products: Americans spend billions more because of their lack of financial knowledge.
Cass Sunstein, former Obama Administration official and promoter of government policies that “nudge” people into avoiding making such predictable and costly mistakes, suggests that we should institute rules that force banks to make it very easy to refinance loans when interest rates fall. While this approach won’t be very popular with banks or mortgage investors, there’s plenty of research that shows that creating systems where it’s easier to make the right choice about your finances will lead to more people making those choices.
This is also good way to approach the problem of the American retirement system, in which average citizens waste billions of dollars every year without making their futures more secure. Private companies have basically abandoned defined-benefit retirement programs, but that doesn’t mean they should abandon the idea that they are partly responsible for making their employees’ retirements as comfortable as possible. That means setting up automatic enrollment, automatic escalation of their contributions, and, most importantly, not giving the option to invest in high-fee funds. It also means that employers need to make sure that their employees have the knowledge to make the right choices.
At the end of the day, there also must be a greater emphasis placed on financial education in public school systems so that, at the very least, the vast majority of consumers can understand a concept like compound interest. There may very well be five suckers born every minute in this country, but there’s no reason they have to remain suckers for the rest of their lives.