The test on basic money knowledge has been administered twice — and Americans failed it both times

Despite having the largest economy in the world, American teens continue to struggle with basic financial skills.

On an exam that measures students around the world in mathematics, science and financial literacy, almost 22 percent of 15-year-olds from the U.S. scored below a passing grade, says the National Center for Educational Statistics.

While this is only the second time the test has been given, we don’t look too good. America finished below the worldwide average with the same score both times.

Just how well did we do?

When compared to the other countries that participated, America had mixed results:

  • China, Belgium, Russia, the Netherlands and Australia scored higher than both the U.S. and the worldwide average. China led all countries in the study.
  • Poland, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Slovakia, Peru, Chile and Brazil all scored below the worldwide average and the U.S. Brazil scored the worst among all countries.
  • Scored as if they were individual countries, both Massachusetts and South Carolina scored higher than the U.S average. If they were ranked with the other countries, Massachusetts would have finished fourth.

It’s interesting that Massachusetts and South Carolina performed better than the U.S. In a separate study from FINRA which we included in our map of U.S. financial literacy, neither did especially well and Massachusetts was near the bottom of the pack. That suggests we all need to improve.

What is causing this?

It’s no secret that America struggles with financial literacy. From one study where no state got an A for financial literacy to another report that found that only 16 states require some type of financial literacy class for graduation, money skills are not a priority.

“These are fundamental life skills that are absolutely essential for all Americans, but the study shows that many of our students — roughly one-fifth overall — don’t have the skills they need to make prudent decisions about their personal finances,” NCES commissioner Peggy G. Carr says.

But it’s not just the schools that are avoiding talking about finance. Parents are failing to start the conversation as well. According to one study, only 11 percent of parents are bringing up finance with their adult children.

All of this can create an environment where kids don’t know their HELOC from their elbow. (It’s OK to look it up.)

How can it be fixed?

If schools aren’t going to offer more classes, the best thing parents can do is talk to their kids. According to founder and CPA Howard Dvorkin, avoiding or putting off the financial discussion can have major consequences on their future.

“If you want your children to thrive and raise your grandchildren in a healthy environment, they need to understand how to save money and how to spend it properly,” he wrote.

For parents looking for ways to train their kids on money, here are a few strategies to start the conversation. If you don’t know where to start — many parents don’t — here are a few do’s and don’ts to talking money with your kids.

Don’t worry, it’s easier to talk about personal finance than sex.

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Meet the Author

Ryan Lynch

Ryan Lynch


Lynch is a freelance writer for

Budgeting & Saving

financial literacy, millennials

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Article last modified on August 14, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: U.S. Students Score Below Average on Worldwide Financial Literacy Test - AMP.