What works: Know-how equals net worth
It took only a little education to get Jason Jacobsohn to see the benefits on saving early and often.
By Penelope Wang, Money Magazine senior writer

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- In one study analyzing the impact of financial literacy, people were quizzed on simple calculations, such as compound interest or percentages, and then their knowledge was compared with their net worth.

The study was done by Annmaria Lusardi, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Olivia Mitchell, a professor of insurance and risk management at the University of Pennsylvania.

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The findings: More right answers matched up with greater wealth. Those who grasped compound interest, for example, had a median net worth of $309,000 vs. $116,000 for those who missed the question.

In another study, Lusardi found that those who had attended retirement seminars had a 20% increase in net worth. Those with the least money and education got the most from the events, but even the wealthier profited.

"People who attend financial seminars tend to be the most motivated," says Lusardi. "But the results suggest that education has a positive impact on building wealth."

Jason Jacobsohn credits his retirement head start to an early dose of financial education. In a college business class, he heard an example of compounding that every retirement planner knows by heart.

It goes like this: If you start saving $2,000 a year at age 20 and keep it up for 10 years, you'll have about $34,000 by age 30, assuming a 10% annualized return. If you never save another dime, you'll have $677,000 at 60.

However, if you wait until age 30 to begin, you'll have to put away $3,600 a year for 30 years to end up with the same amount at age 60. In other words, you have to save almost twice as much each year for three times as long to make up for a late start.

Jacobsohn promptly stashed $1,000 from a summer job in an IRA, and he's been a diligent saver ever since. Today the 33-year-old business adviser and his wife Hillary, 33, a recruiter, have a $70,000 retirement portfolio. Even with money a bit tight lately - daughter Hailey was born 18 months ago - they still save enough in their 401(k)s to earn the full company match.

"I want to have financial independence," he says. "I'm taking care of our future."

What to do now

If you're simply trying to master the basics, read a beginner's personal finance book such as The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing. Or go to our Money 101 section.

If you still feel overwhelmed, consider consulting with a financial adviser who charges by the visit (rather than by commission on the products you're sold).


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