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Psychology Over Math In Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Posted By:  |  August 25, 2015  |  0 Comment(s)

Financial decisions we make as consumers may not be strictly dependent on our financial literacy. Many individuals are caught in the warp of mindless consumerism while others attempt debt relief with strict budget constraints. But why are so many still finding themselves hung up on the debt line? Researchers are discovering it has more to do with psychology than mathematical algorithms.


Throughout history policymakers and other non-profit organizations have based financial health using the Finra exam to measure financial literacy using five seemingly simple questions. The national average scored a meager 2.88 correct out of five, leaving 43 percent of the population answering the questions incorrectly.

With financial literacy courses found in abundance, researchers are attempting to discover why so many Americans are financially illiterate and always in debt. Since the 2008 financial crisis behavioral economics have become a major focus. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics researcher, has opened the doors on how smart people repeatedly make poor financial choices. His thoughts and research may be read on his blog. Professor Philip Zimbardo shines light to his time perspective theory and how our outlook on time creates ripples with every decision made. This theory demonstrates the past negative group being filled with those lacking positive hope for the future based on past events, while present hedonists are concerned only about right now, and the future oriented group focused only on the possible outcome of tomorrow, living in constant worry.

Zimbardo’s research led him to believe each action we take as individuals is based on the circumstance seen through our own ‘time perspective lens.’ Nick Clemets, Forbes contributor, exemplifies this theory:

If you are a past negative, you would be highly unlikely to invest in a risky stock, because you would immediately think about the losses of the past. But if you were a present hedonist, you would do whatever makes you feel best today, regardless of its impact on your future.

Clemets and his affiliates conducted a study spread over six countries putting Zimbardo’s theory to the test. Results found were conclusive with Zimbardo’s hypothesis in that a high financial literacy score was not a sufficient predictor to financial health. However, a strong correlation to an individual’s approach on time and financial health were evident

Researchers are finding these results hold fast to Dave Ramsey’s idea of success in personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. Ramsey’s advice is to ignore FICO, never swipe another credit card, and pay off all small bills first regardless of interest rates, all driven off psychology over mathematics.

Dr. J Galen Buckwalter, hired by Payoff, a start up refinancing company, has created a quiz to help consumers discover their financial personalities, which can be taken here. This quiz was designed with high hopes in making it easier to understand how we make financial decisions and banks on the idea consumers will find steps to improving on those decisions in the future.


  • How important is it to you for a debt consolidation company to offer financial education resources?
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