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How Technology Helps & Hurts Financial Literacy

It’s no secret that technology is a driving force in support of literacy. Study after study has corroborated this constructive connection, showing that computer-based instruction and tablet access produce markedly improved test results, for example, and revealing that more than 70 percent of millennials believe technology makes it easier to learn new things.

But technology is far from a panacea. It causes its own share of problems, including declining leisure-reading rates and increased distractedness. What’s more, it’s fair to wonder if technology’s benefits are as pronounced with traditionally out-of-the-classroom topics such as money management. With that in mind, let’s explore what we can expect — both good and bad — from the union of technology and finance, or fintech if you’re into buzzwords.

3 Ways Technology Fuels Financial Literacy

1. Increasingly Sophisticated Guidance Is Readily Available: All of the necessary information is there for the taking by anyone with the time and motivation to study it. And as technological developments such as artificial intelligence improves, both the guidance we receive and the manner in which we receive it will get better and better.

2. Monitoring Is More Efficient: Technological advancement has made all types of data, and analytics thereof, more accessible for everyday people. With very little effort, we can track the number of steps we take each day, how many calories we consume each meal and the extent to which our credit scores change in real-time, among many other things. The financial ramifications of this are profound, enabling us to better understand how our actions impact our credit standing as well as strategically time application for financial products and respond immediately to potential signs of fraud.

Indeed, one of the best things about money management going mobile is the ability to receive an immediate notification about any important changes to your credit or banking information. This allows users to sort out any problems before they can spiral out of control.

3. Technology Simplifies Teaching: Technology can now begin to fuel financial literacy from a very young age, thanks to smartphone games such as Financial Football (ages 11+) and Savings Spree (7+). Quieting your young one with some “game” time can therefore be quite productive, helping them internalize fundamental money management values, gain valuable experience interacting with technology and give you a bit of a break.

The benefits continue as children age, too. Online account management makes it easier for parents to supervise their kids’ use of prepaid cards, checking accounts and, ultimately, credit cards — all of which they’ll encounter during adulthood. Tools such as WalletHub’s WalletLiteracy Test also enable parents to get a baseline for their kids’ financial know-how, discover specific shortcomings, make educational adjustments and monitor the results.

The Downsides Of Financial Literacy Technology

1. We Aren’t Forced To Learn The Fundamentals: Fintech naturally produces improved results, turning complex problems into simple choices for consumers while providing timely notifications that keep users engaged as well as reduce the likelihood of missing something important. But this ease of use also masks some important shortcomings, as starting from square one is no longer a prerequisite for success. In other words, we don’t really have to learn the basics anymore because technology allows us to hit the ground running.

That’s great, in one sense, but what if these corner-cutting services are for some reason unavailable? And if we don’t know what’s what, how can we avoid getting taken advantage of? Blind trust is not a becoming quality for a consumer.

2. Technological Illiteracy Causes Its Own Problems: So we’re not too financially literate, by and large, and technology is one of the most promising crutches for this shortcoming. But what if you’re not technologically savvy, either? Such individuals are therefore swimming in increasingly deep water, with click-of-a-button functionality representing a strong current that could quickly pull them under.

At the end of the day, we can expect technology to have a net positive effect on our financial literacy levels. We need all the help we can get, considering that 41 percent of Americans currently grade their know-how at a “C” level or below, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. And as we continue to rack up billions of dollars in credit card debt each year in the wake of one of the worst recessions in history, there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Odysseas Papadimitriou is CEO of the personal-finance website WalletHub, which offers free credit scores, full credit reports, 24/7 credit monitoring and customized money-saving advice.