Community Dividend

12th graders' financial literacy improves slightly, survey finds

Published August 1, 2004  | August 2004 issue

America’s high school seniors have a slightly better understanding of personal finance than they did two years ago, according to a survey conducted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (Jump$tart) and funded by Merrill Lynch.

From December of 2003 through February of 2004, Jump$tart surveyed more than 4,000 12th graders in 33 states. The survey included a timed examination, consisting of about 30 multiple-choice questions on income, money management, saving and spending; and a series of questions about respondents’ financial habits and socioeconomic backgrounds.

On average, students answered 52.3 percent of the exam questions correctly. The score is a slight improvement over the results of Jump$tart’s previous two surveys, conducted in 2002 and 2000, but falls short of the 57.3 percent score recorded during the first survey year in 1997. Graded on a typical academic scale, 65.5 percent of the 2004 respondents failed the exam and only 6.1 percent scored better than a C. Students performed better on questions about income and spending than they did on money-management and savings questions.

Nearly 80 percent of students reported having a savings or checking account with a financial institution. Those students scored higher, on average, than students without accounts. College-bound seniors performed better than their noncollege-bound peers, and students who took a full semester of required money management courses scored better than those who either did not take such a class or took it as an elective. The survey results indicate that parental involvement is a major factor in financial literacy, with 58.3 percent of students reporting that they learned most of their money management skills at home.

To access the survey, visit and click on “Downloads.”