SPARK Institute & Corporate Insight Report Preliminary Survey Results Supporting Need To Improve Financial Literacy Among High School & College Students

The SPARK Institute in partnership with Corporate Insight, Inc., today released survey results revealing the need for improved financial education for High School and College Students. The survey, conducted in July 2023, examines Aptitude, Behavior and Confidence levels of 956 high school students and 910 college students regarding foundational principles of personal financial management (the ABCs of Financial Literacy).

“Financial Literacy is a key strategic initiative for The SPARK Institute and member firms,” according to Tim Rouse, Executive Director of SPARK Institute. “Research tells us that financial literacy is closely connected to individual financial wellbeing. It is a cornerstone for enabling individuals to prosper and achieve lifegoals, including retirement. SPARK member organizations are increasing focus on financial literacy and working with local schools and communities to ensure early engagement. Our goal at SPARK is to better connect these efforts to benefit the individuals preparing for retirement.”

As interest in financial literacy grows, it is crucial that organizations and policy makers align on how financial literacy efforts can best be implemented to improve financial literacy among American households. Michael Ellison, President of Corporate Insight, Inc notes, “Financial Literacy is a big topic, relevant to people at all life stages. Our priority with this survey was to better understand Gen Z and their relationship with money – what they know about it, what they do with it, how confident they feel about their decisions and what role financial service firms can play. Findings from the new financial literacy survey of ~2000 high school and college students help us do just that.”

Key Survey Conclusions:

  • High School and College students are not equipped to face their increasing complex financial futures.
  • While higher education marginally improves financial literacy, the outlook is worse for high school students who do not plan to go to college.
  • Lack of financial literacy will create downward pressure on the impact our industry can have on successful financial outcomes.

There is an opportunity – and need – for public private partnership to improve financial literacy, education and policies to secure the financial future of the U.S. population.

“The Financial services industry spends significant resources on educating employees on how to save and invest for the future. However, there is not enough focus on providing education to high school and college age students build good financial habits early in life”, says Snezana Zlatar, Chair of the SPARK Financial Literacy Committee. “SPARK wants to enable its member organizations to coordinate financial literacy efforts and share best practices, provide research on key topics, create partnerships with academia and non-profits in this space and work with regulators and legislators providing public policy advocacy where needed.”

Survey Executive Summary:

Overall, respondents demonstrated relatively low cognizance of financial literacy topics. We asked 5 multiple choice questions about credit score, loans, retirement savings, investing, and interest accrual. Only 39% of college students got more than half the answers correct, while their high school counterparts scored slightly lower at 37%.

Interestingly, parental education has a positive impact on student aptitude. Respondents with high financial knowledge were much more likely to have parents who attended college (70% vs 30% for high school and 66% vs. 58% for college). This parental advantage also played out in behavioral aspects among those surveyed. While 51% of high school students and 70% of college students had savings accounts that were regularly contributed to, parental college attendance yielded a 15-point increase in likelihood of high school students having a savings account.

Most college respondents have planned for a large expense over time despite over-drafting and missing credit card payments. 55% of college students are planning for a large expense but 29% of over drafted their checking accounts and 16% have had late/missed credit card payments in the past six month. Troublingly, both high school and college respondents gave low ratings to their personal financial knowledge. Just 18% of high school and 26% of college students rate their financial knowledge “somewhat high” or “very high”. Only 46% of high school and 55% of college students think they know enough to reach their financial goals.

And worse, schools are not considered helpful on this front. When asked how well their classes have prepared them to make personal financial decisions, just 11% of high school and 18% of college students responded “very well” or “extremely well”. And for high school students who are not planning to attend college, the positive response dips to just 10%.

When asked where students receive their financial advice, parents are the paramount source for ~60% of respondents, followed by internet search (roughly 50%) and social media (35-38%). Racial demographic has an impact here as well. White and Asian students were more likely to turn to their parents for advice (72% and 75% respectively), while Asian students also relied more heavily on internet search (61%). Social media was more likely to be used by black or African American students (47%).

Finally, while product ownership (having checking and savings accounts, debit or credit cards, etc.) were generally evenly distributed across racial and gender lines, Latino students were more likely to be unbanked than other groups with ~10% lower ownership of checking and savings accounts. There are no significant differences in financial knowledge, behavior or confidence across gender lines.

For more information, please contact Tim Rouse at

About SPARK Institute
The SPARK Institute represents the interests of a broad-based cross section of retirement plan service providers and investment managers, including members that are banks, mutual fund companies, insurance companies, third-party administrators, trade clearing firms, and benefits consultants. Through the combined expertise of its member companies, the Institute provides research, education, testimony, and comments on pending legislative and regulatory issues to members of Congress and relevant Government agency officials. Collectively, its members serve approximately 100 million participants in 401(k) and other defined contribution plans.

About Corporate Insight
Corporate Insight delivers competitive intelligence, user experience research and consulting services to the nation’s leading healthcare, insurance and financial services institutions. As the recognized industry leader in customer experience research for nearly 30 years, Corporate Insight has been the trusted partner to corporations seeking to improve their digital capabilities and user experience. Its best-in-class research platform and unique approach of analyzing the actual customer experience helps corporations advance their competitive position in the marketplace.

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