Financial literacy is a hot-button issue as memories still linger over the Great Recession and as millions of baby boomers hit retirement age, and as a legion of younger Americans battle skyrocketing student loan debt.

How important is financial literacy?

According to data from the National Financial Educator Council, “lacking” financial literacy and not having a grip on one’s personal finances can lead to big problems for Americans.

Out of 1,500 U.S. adults surveyed, respondents said that, on average, they lost $1,230 dollars in 2018 by not properly understanding basic household finance issues – that’s about the monthly mortgage on a modest home. Almost 20% reported not understanding their finances cost them $2,500, based on calculations provided by the NFEC. Altogether, a lack of financial literacy cost Americans a total of $295 billion in 2018.

Then there’s this disturbing milestone. According to Lending Tree, the collective debt of Americans crested to $4 trillion for the very first time, and more U.S. households say gaining good credit has become a bigger problem.

The issue has become so important that in 2004, Congress passed a law citing April as “Financial Literacy Month. In the legislation, the U.S. Senate said the initiative was needed to “raise public awareness about the importance of financial education in the United States and the serious consequences that may be associated with a lack of understanding about personal finances.”

Congress was on to something. Loss of financial assets, larger debt and tougher credit conditions are among the biggest threats stemming from a lack of literacy, but it’s not the only one. Here’s a closer look at financial literacy and what it means to you.

What Is Financial Literacy?

Financial literacy is defined as being educated about money and finance, with a special focus on an individual’s personal finances. Being financially literate enables you to make smarter money management decisions that lead directly to a financially secure future, one that protects the assets built by you and your loved ones.

Categories that typically come into play with financial literacy are everyday financial issues like budgeting, spending, debt, taxes, retirement savings, college savings, mortgage management, and tax and estate planning.

Digging deeper, financial literacy can also include more esoteric themes, like investing, understanding how interest rates work, passive versus active income, and overall financial planning.

Five Ways to Become Financially Literate

Individuals can engage in financial literacy in multiple ways, as follows:

1. By Reading

Whether it’s simply googling personal finance articles on and reviewing them, cracking open an investment book, reading up on financial issues is one of the easiest and fastest ways to engage in financial literacy.

2. By Taking a Class

You can also benefit from taking an online or in-person financial literacy course in any one of multiple subjects, like accounting, retirement planning, or saving for college. Online financial courses are easy to find and, chances are, your local community college offers some solid financial planning courses.

3. By Listening to Podcasts and Radio Shows

Tuning in to a finance and/or investment podcast like Stacking Benjamins or just listening to Dave Ramsey every broadcast can be a good launching point to financial literacy. These shows offer real word personal financial scenarios that any Main Street American can learn from.

4. By Watching Television or Using YouTube

Video is a great way to absorb some personal finance lessons, especially on investing and participating in the stock market. Tuning into CNBC or checking out The College Investor with Robert Farrington can help you understand money and saving and investing better, and best of all, it’s free.

5. By Talking to a Financial Professional

A surefire way to learn about finance is to talk to, and work with, a financial planner, a tax planner or an estate planning specialist on a personal, one-on-one basis. Getting the facts from a financial expert in person is a great learning experience. Plus, you get the valuable opportunity to ask personal financial questions that are important to you.

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