Here, I will seek to define several common personal finance terms that are often conflated and misunderstood.

Financial Literacy: There is no consensus definition of financial literacy, but I would say it is mainly concerned with having financial knowledge. However, personal finance is an eclectic field; having a high level of financial literacy requires knowledge in other areas, such as behavioral economics, psychology, information literacy, law, and even nutrition. Although financial literacy is usually correlated with good financial practices, this is not a given; one can easily have expertise but fail to apply it, or succumb to believing they are exceptional and can earn more in the stock market than others, or miraculously avoid a probable, deleterious outcome.

Financial Capability: I would define this as financial literacy combined with demonstrated financial competence, which hinges on consistently making good financial decisions, given one’s available choices and opportunities. What constitutes a “good” financial decision is not always clear, but we can often put items in rank order. For example, taking a payday loan is objectively worse than taking a credit card cash advance, because payday loans have far higher interest rates. One can have financial capability but not be able to do much with it—for instance, marginalized peoples and those in adverse situations. Conversely, privileged people may squander a portion of their privilege due to low financial capability. To be financial capable, one must not only make good financial decisions but also know why their decisions are good, and why they selected them over alternative courses of action. Such expertise should result in repeated beneficent decision-making, whereas someone of low financial capability might make a good choice by chance, but is unlikely to reliably do so.

Gambling: Many people conflate gambling and investing, but they are not the same thing. I define gambling as an act or series of acts where you are more likely to lose money than not, meaning that your expected returns are negative. However, there is an exception for insurance that insures against unmanageable losses, including losses that may potentially be unlimited (e.g., health insurance). Obviously, insurance companies have to come out ahead overall, but insurance is worthwhile to insure against unlikely but highly deleterious financial events. Returning to the element of likelihood, any student of statistics knows that if you gamble $1 with a 49% probability of coming away with $2 but a 51% probability of coming away with zero, your odds of making money are close to 50:50. But, if you keep making this bet again and again, your probability of losing money overall gets closer and closer to 100%. This is how lotteries and casinos produce guaranteed profits. When you invest in a broad swath of the stock market (e.g., an S&P 500 index fund), your probability of making money on any one trading day is about 54%. However, in a given year, it is about 83%, and in a given 10-year span, it is about 91%. Assuming you don’t need the money for a long time, this is investing, not gambling. However, if you try to pick stocks or put all your money in your company’s stock, your expected return might be negative, and there is a large risk of catastrophic loss. This is gambling. A kinder word is speculating, but it is certainly not investing.

Speculating: If you pick individual stocks or even entire market sectors, you are basically speculating. Buying gold, silver, oil, or corn futures is speculation. Buying BitCoin is speculation. These assets don’t have a solid track record of producing real returns (after adjusting for inflation). Modern portfolio theory tells us that holding uncorrelated (diversified) assets can be advantageous, so it makes sense to have gold—but not more than a small percentage of your assets. Speculation is often better than gambling, but certainly worse (as a decision) than investing. Although you might have fantastic results from speculating, this just means you had the unlikely fortune of making a bad decision that resulted in a good outcome. However, if this inflates your ego, it can easily lead to future misfortunes!

Investing: Over time, investing results in a probability of real returns that approaches 100%. As Vanguard mentions, for an S&P 500 index fund, which consists of 500 of the largest U.S. public companies invested proportionate to the companies’ market valuations, your probability of positive returns on any given day is 54%, but in ten years it is 91% (based on 1988–2018 data, but others have shown similar results even going back 100+ years). Besides the stock market, one can be successful at investing in real estate, or even one’s education, as those with more education tend to be more happy and successful in life, including financial success. Of course, there is presently a student loan “crisis” going on, and it is important to avoid high-cost tuition and housing expenses while also finishing your degree. On another note, investments must have a high probability of succeeding within a reasonable timeframe, and what is investing for one person could be gambling for another based on how soon they need the money (e.g., older people should have “safer” investments meaning less risk of short- and medium-term losses and lower expected returns).

I will follow this up with a Part 2 in the near future.

This is a June 2018 video by Richard Thripp (39 minutes) explaining the choices, answers, and rationale to a financial literacy quiz written by Richard Thripp in May 2018.

When watching it, I recommend adjusting the YouTube quality setting to the highest resolution (720p).

The video covers computing compound interest, numeracy skills, stock investing, tax issues, healthcare, retirement, credit scores, and many other issues.

New: I made a narrated video explaining the questions and answers.

This is a financial literacy quiz written by Richard Thripp in April 2018 and published on Tippyfi in May 2018. It covers interest rates, compounding, numeracy skills, stock investing, tax issues, healthcare, and retirement. After submitting, you will see how many points you scored, the answers you chose (marked with a red X if incorrect) and the correct answers (marked with a green checkmark) for all questions, and explanations for all questions.

1. Suppose you deposit $1,000.00 in a savings account that earns interest, amounting to a 1.00% annual percentage yield (APY). This means that after each year passes, the account balance will be 101% of what it was a year before. After two years, what will your account balance be?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

2. Suppose that when a person earns money, they pay 10% of their earnings as a tithe to their church. Pretend that other expenses and taxes (e.g., income, payroll, and sales taxes) are zero. For this person to be able to afford to purchase a $100.00 item, how much money must they earn?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

3. If five (5) people all have the winning number in a lottery and the prize is $2,000,000.00 (two million dollars), how much will each of them get? Assume the prize is split evenly, taxes are zero, and that there is no penalty for a lump-sum payout. (Question adapted from the 2004 Health and Retirement Study)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

4. Suppose that a credit card charges a 24% annual percentage rate (APR) on purchases, compounded daily from the date of purchase (365 days per year). This means that each day, the amount owed is 100.06575% of what was owed the previous day. One year after a purchase is made, how much of the original amount will be owed? Assume no payments are made toward this purchase and no penalties are assessed.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

5. If inflation increases prices by 2.00% per year for a given item that costs $100.00 now, how much will this item cost in 10 years?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

6. You are shopping at a clothing store in a clearance section where all items are 50% off the marked prices. Items marked with a yellow tag receive an additional 30% off. Which method of computing the discounted price would result in a lower price for the customer?

 
 
 

7. Over a 30-year timeframe starting now, which of these is most likely to be the most profitable investment?

 
 
 
 

8. Avoiding income taxes is a reason to contribute to an individual retirement arrangement (IRA).

 
 
 

9. Monies contributed to individual retirement arrangements (IRAs), 401(k) accounts, and 403(b) accounts can be invested in certificates of deposits (CDs), money market accounts, and fixed-income assets (bonds), but cannot be invested in equities (stocks).

 
 
 

10. In a 10-year period, which of the following earnings scenarios will result in an unmarried individual paying less money in U.S. federal income taxes?

 
 
 

11. Given the performance of U.S. equities (stocks) in the past, if one invests in an index mutual fund of the whole U.S. stock market, the probability of making money in any particular one-year period is approximately what?

 
 
 
 
 

12. Given the performance of U.S. equities (stocks) in the past, if one invests in an index mutual fund of the whole U.S. stock market, as the number of years one stays invested increases (e.g., 10, 20, 30, 40 years, etc.), the probability of making money gets closer and closer to 100%.

 
 
 

13. If one has plenty of money saved, it is generally a good idea to purchase insurance that protects against minor expenses.

 
 
 

14. In most U.S. states, giving a person durable power of attorney means they can make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated, even if their decisions are contrary to your family’s wishes.

 
 
 

15. Generally, designating someone as a payable-on-death beneficiary of a bank or investment account supersedes or bypasses beneficiaries named in a will.

 
 
 

16. A downside of health insurance is that hospitals typically negotiate higher rates with insurance companies than what they would bill an individual who did not have health insurance.

 
 
 

17. A disadvantage of accumulating an emergency fund is that you may become ineligible for means-tested benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

 
 
 

18. Overall, the distributions of income and wealth in the United States have both been becoming more equitable since the 1970s.

 
 
 

19. On a dollar-for-dollar basis and without considering taxes, funds acquired through hard work and funds acquired via a windfall (e.g., winning the lottery) are of equal value.

 
 
 

20. Which of the following has a positive impact on your credit scores?