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Survey Shows High Levels of Financial Distress Among Natives

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The FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation) and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) recently published the nation’s most comprehensive analysis of the financial capability of American Indians/Alaska Natives, including the financial behavior, attitudes and knowledge of Native peoples.

The report, Race and Financial Capability in America: Understanding the Native American Experience, shows that Native Americans – even more so than other minority populations – face difficult financial circumstances and experience high levels of financial fragility.

Statistics in the report are based on data from the FINRA Foundation’s National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), one of the largest financial capability studies in the U.S. and one of the most inclusive in its sample size of nearly 600 Native Americans. While NFCS data suggest that a recovering economy and stronger job market have improved financial conditions and behaviors for many individuals and families nationwide, it also shows that there are segments of American society that have seen little change in their financial capability and financial circumstances since the financial crisis nearly a decade ago. The survey’s full data set, methodology and related questionnaire are available at


Researchers explored four key components of financial capability: making ends meet, planning ahead, managing financial products, and financial knowledge and decision-making. While on par with African-Americans and Hispanics in many of these areas, the research suggests that Native Americans are faring the worst among minorities in trying to make ends meet.

Sixty-three percent of Native Americans surveyed indicated that it was difficult or very difficult to make ends meet, compared to 60 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Hispanics. Only 45 percent of whites and 47 percent of Asian-Americans reported difficulty paying expenses.

In addition, only a quarter of Native Americans could come up with $2,000 in 30 days in the event of a financial emergency, as opposed to 46 percent of whites and 45 percent of Asian-Americans.

Another important finding is that, on average, Native American and Alaska Native people are less likely than other ethnic groups to use traditional financial products. Only 64 percent of Native Americans have a savings account, money market fund or CD, compared to higher rates of African-Americans (68 percent), Asian-Americans (79 percent) and whites (77 percent). In addition, 37 percent of Native American households – versus 39 percent of African-Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics – use alternative financial services, which include high-cost forms of borrowing such as pawn shops, payday loans, rent-to-own stores and auto-title loans.

“Access to affordable credit and financial services is a mission of First Nations Development Institute and our sister organization, First Nations Oweesta Corporation,” said Sarah Dewees, Senior Director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs at First Nations. “Unfortunately, many communities lack access to financial services. By supporting Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and effective financial education programs, we can begin to meet existing needs.”

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Additional findings include the following:

  • Native Americans are the most likely of any ethnic group to receive money from family members who do not live in their household (26 percent), indicating strong social networks are necessary to make ends meet.
  • Native American financial literacy levels are on par with those of African-Americans and Hispanics, but they are lower than the financial literacy levels of Asian-Americans and whites. On a five-question financial literacy quiz, only 27 percent of Native Americans could answer four or five questions correctly, compared to 37 percent of all respondents nationwide.
  • Native Americans with $50,000 or more in income are more than twice as likely as those earning less to be saving for retirement and to own non-retirement investment accounts. Households earning less than $50,000 are nearly twice as likely to use alternative financial services, such as payday lenders and pawn shops.

“While financial literacy is not the only indicator of financial wellness, this report reveals stark contrasts among different ethnic groups, with Native Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans trailing national averages,” said FINRA Foundation President Gerri Walsh. “Over time, effective financial education programs — coupled with access to affordable financial products and continued economic growth — could improve the financial capability of Native peoples. We look forward to continuing our partnerships to improve financial wellness in Native communities,” Walsh added.

The publication of the report coincides with the Foundation’s observance of national Financial Literacy Month in April.

About the FINRA Foundation

The FINRA Foundation supports innovative research and educational projects that give underserved Americans the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for financial success throughout life. For more information about FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit

FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity. It regulates one critical part of the securities industry – brokerage firms doing business with the public in the United States. FINRA, overseen by the SEC, writes rules, examines for and enforces compliance with FINRA rules and federal securities laws, registers broker-dealer personnel and offers them education and training, and informs the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers a dispute resolution forum for investors and brokerage firms and their registered employees. To see if your investment professional is regulated by FINRA, please go to BrokerCheck. And for more information, visit

About First Nations Development Institute

First Nations is a 36-year-old national Native American nonprofit organization. It uses a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities to help restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage, or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit