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Math skills add up to better credit account management

John Egan

Pity the poor undergraduate psychology majors at Ohio State University: They’re forced to take a class in psychology statistics. Sounds painful, doesn’t it?

For someone as math-averse as I, the thought of being required to take a statistics course makes me cringe. As a journalism major in college, I was almost allergic to math – and numbers in general. I’ve always been more of a word guy.

Nonetheless, I grasp the vital role that a firm understanding of math and numbers plays in our day-to-day existence. Without such comprehension, you’re likely to screw up your bank account or misjudge your credit card debt ($5,284 per U.S. adult with credit card, according to our calculations) or fail to properly save for your retirement.

Underscoring that often uncomfortable reality is a new study in which 221 students in the Ohio State psychology statistics course participated.

The study, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, found that a psychology intervention technique known as values affirmation helped students boost their math literacy, which scientists call “numeracy,” according to an Ohio State news release. And that stepped-up numeracy benefited the students both inside and outside the classroom.

“This study showed that knowing how to use numbers is important for everyone, even if you think you’re not using math. Numeracy helps people in their everyday lives,” Ellen Peters, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State, said in a news release.

Among other things, the intervention aided students in overcoming intimidation they felt about math and, subsequently, in demonstrating better financial literacy, such as figuring out how credit card debt and mortgages work, according to the news release.

“We were able to show that numeric ability really matters outside of class. … It is for all of us,” Peters says.

Not every one of us can undergo the sort of math intervention that the Ohio State students did. And there isn’t, as far as I know, a Dr. Phil for the math-challenged among us.

Whether led by Dr. Phil or a modern-day Albert Einstein, many of us desperately need a math intervention.

As noted in the study, only one-fourth of U.S. high school seniors in 2015 were considered proficient in math. Even worse, the study says, just 29 percent of American adults have basic math skills.

The researchers noted that people who are more “numerate” pay their credit cards in full, avoid predatory loans and maintain adequate retirement savings. Therefore, it stands to reason that people who are less “numerate” – those millions of math-tested Americans – are stuck in the minus column when it comes to credit cards, predatory loans and retirement savings.

If you add it all up, you’ll conclude, like I did, that we’ve got to wise up regarding money matters. It doesn’t take a math major (or a psychological statistics student) to figure that out.

See related: America gets a ‘C’ in financial literacy, Summer jobs program teaches ABCs of debit, Financial illiteracy has cost me thousands

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