Gen Z learns more about money from social media influencers than school or books, study shows

  • 66% of respondents feel financially literate, yet only 36% of respondents say they feel confident managing their daily finances 
  • Half of Americans say school did not prepare them to manage their finances as an adult, leading younger generations to seek this information online or via social media
  • 58% of respondents have made a financial mistake that negatively impacted their financial stability

When it comes to achieving life’s many financial milestones, like opening your first bank account, applying for a credit card or even buying your first home, you need to have at least a baseline knowledge of finances and how the financial system works. Yet, when it comes down to it, most people feel like the financial system is intentionally confusing and many feel left behind, resulting in confusion and stress among consumers. 

According to a recent study conducted by Qualtrics on behalf of Credit Karma, 50% of respondents say the financial system is intentionally confusing and another 43% say they feel left behind by the financial system. This is especially true among younger generations, as well as Black respondents, 56% of which say they feel left behind. When asked about what aspects of personal finance are most confusing, respondents said investing in the stock market (37%) or in crypto (33%), followed by planning for retirement (25%) and filing taxes (22%).

What do you mean financially “lit”?

Despite feeling confused and left behind by the financial system, 66% of Americans report feeling financially literate. Yet, only 36% feel confident managing their day-to-day finances. When it comes to financial literacy, women and minorities, as well as low-wage earners were most likely to report feeling financially illiterate. 

Lit or not, we all make mistakes. 

According to the study, 58% of respondents say they’ve made a financial mistake that negatively impacted their financial stability. The most common pitfalls for those who made a financial mistake were not having enough money saved for their future (36%) or for an emergency (33%), as well as taking on more debt than they could afford (31%), not paying their bills on time (28%) and letting their bills go to collections (28%). In many cases, these mistakes held consumers back from achieving their financial goals. 

According to the study, 68% of respondents who made a financial mistake said it held them back from achieving a financial milestone or goal, with women and younger generations being most likely to report feeling held back. When asked what goals they were unable to achieve, nearly half of respondents said their mistake kept them from becoming financially stable. Meanwhile, another 41% of respondents were unable to build an emergency fund and 35% were unable to claim financial independence. 

Of note, Gen Z was the most likely generation to say their financial mistake held them back from investing in stocks/digital assets, 27% compared to just 13% of millennials, 10% of Gen X and 9% of Boomers+. 

Financial education falls short in schools 

Historically, school has not been the best place to get financial education. According to the study, 50% of respondents said school did not prepare them to manage their finances as an adult. If financial education at school was an option, respondents say they would want to learn about investing (56%), creating a budget (51%) and the basics of credit and debit cards (46%).

Forget school, people are getting financially “lit” online

In the absence of proper schooling, consumers turn to other resources to learn about finances, especially younger generations. In fact, more than one-third of all respondents say they seek financial advice or information online or through social media, with 61% of Gen Z respondents reportedly doing so. Among those who are seeking this information online, most are turning to YouTube (49%), blogs of financial institutions (42%) or Facebook (38%) to get their information. However, 45% of Gen Z respondents say they get their financial information or advice from TikTok, the most of any other generation – by a lot. 

What’s more, nearly a quarter of Gen Z respondents say social media influencers have taught them the most about money, more than school or books. When asked about their knowledge of topics, such as pop culture, reality TV, sports and personal finance, Gen Z said they knew the least about personal finance, on average. Instead, they rated their knowledge of social media, music and pop culture above all else. 

This money sh*t is stressful

The lack of financial literacy is stressful, causing many Americans to worry about money. According to the study, money is the leading cause of stress for respondents (39%), followed by physical health (18%) and mental health (13%). This was especially true for women and millennial respondents, a higher percentage of which said money was a leading cause of stress. 

“Knowledge is key when it comes to achieving your financial goals, yet many consumers are left in the dark when it comes to navigating their finances,” said Colleen McCreary, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. “This lack of financial resources is driving many young people to seek out financial advice online and, oftentimes, from people they don’t know. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, it demonstrates a need for wider access to accurate financial information. If you’re planning to take financial advice from someone online, make sure to do your research first. We all inevitably make financial mistakes, however, if this survey is any indication, it can hold us back from making the financial progress we wish to make.”  


On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in March 2022 among 1,038 Americans aged 18 and older to understand how well consumers understand finances, where they seek out financial information and advice about money and what areas of personal finances are the most confusing to them.