When Alexa von Tobel graduated from Harvard in 2006 and was about to take a job on Wall Street, she wondered whether her first savings priority should be retirement or an emergency kitty.
"I thought, wow, I'm graduating from Harvard and I've never gotten an education about this," says von Tobel, now 27. When she couldn't find a good guide to managing money, she founded one – LearnVest.
She has plenty of potential customers. That year, in the first comprehensive study of U.S. adults' "financial capability," fewer than 10 percent of participants were able to correctly answer five simple quiz questions about everyday money matters.
"The costs of financial illiteracy are high," says Annamaria Lusardi, an economics professor at George Washington University's business school and director of the nonprofit Financial Literacy Center, who helped design the study.
Among them: missing out on opportunities and poor debt management.
"It's a travesty to work hard and then have a strike against you because you forgot to pay your power bill," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at Smartcredit.com.
Once upon a time, financial literacy was taught in school, but less than a quarter of states require a personal finance class for graduation today, says Ted Beck, CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education.
At the same time, as job security has lessened and pensions have disappeared, the stakes have risen dramatically.
Where to start? Tops on many lists is the U.S. government's Mymoney.gov, which gathers the wisdom of more than 20 federal agencies into a library of info on financial planning, savings, and investment.
"You don't need 10 websites," notes Lusardi. "The principles don't change. It's about rigorous information."
Beck's Nefe.org offers a series of primers for consumers on everything from planning a wedding (or a divorce) to leasing a car to investing for retirement.
Lusardi also recommends LearnVest's boot camps, 10-to-17-day free email programs on subjects from personal finance basics to getting out of debt.
Every day, boot campers receive an email with advice, such as how to check your credit score or negotiate a lower cable bill.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun