Financial Literacy Terms to Know. In this article, I summarize common financial literacy terms in investing, banking, saving, and budgeting. It is not a complete list, but it covers many of the common financial literacy terms that you need to know. Investors need to expand their financial vocabulary. The list of finance words is in alphabetical order. You can also use your web browser search function to search for terms. This list of financial literacy terms will be expanded periodically.
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Financial Literacy Terms
Announcement or Declaration Date (Dividend) – The announcement or declaration date is when the dividend is announced by the company or more specifically the company’s board.
Annual Percentage Rate – Annual percentage rate (APR) is the percentage showing the interest rate for a loan. APR also considers fees and transaction costs, but it does not take into account compounding. Hence, it is useful for comparing loans for the same financial instrument from different lenders. APR is also the simple interest paid annually on an investment. APR is calculated using a standard formula.
Annual Percentage Yield – Annual percentage yield (APY) is the real rate of return that you will earn from your investment. APY considers compounding by assuming that the money is kept in the account for 1-year. However, APY does not subtract fees. APY is calculated using a standard formula. APY is useful for comparing investments with different interest rates and compounding periods. APY will be higher than APR for investment since the former consider compounding.
Asset Allocation – Asset Allocation is the term used to define an investment strategy. It is the percentage of each type of asset class in your overall portfolio. There are three main asset classes: stocks, bonds, and cash. The goal is to balance your returns with risk.
Assets Under Management – Assets Under Management (AUM) is the total dollar value that an investment manager manages for its clients. AUM fluctuates daily due to market action, fund inflows or outflows, foreign exchange appreciation, or depreciation. AUM is important as it spreads the operating costs over a larger base and may result in lower expense ratios. There is no set method to calculate AUM.
Bear Market – A bear market is one where security prices are trending lower and have fallen at least (-20%). The term is commonly applied to stock markets. In this case, it is often applied to indices such as the S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow 30). The term bear market is also applied to entire markets such as the NASDAQ or NYSE. Individual stocks can also be in a bear market. Bear markets occur during periods of financial distress such as during a recession. Bear markets can be short-term, such as using March 2020, or long-term, such as during the Great Recession. Bear markets may occur due to business cyclicality or due to a shock to the financial system, such as COVID-19 or sub-prime mortgage crisis.
Beta – Beta is a quantitative measure of volatility (risk) for a stock, security, or portfolio relative to the entire market. The broader stock market has a beta of 1.0. If a stock has a beta of less than 1.0, it is less volatile than the broader stock market. However, if a stock has a beta greater than 1.0, it is more volatile than the broader stock market. A low beta stock has less risk but lower returns, while a high beta stock has higher risk but greater returns. Beta is used in the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) to price risky securities. Beta is calculated using the covariance and variance of security’s and market’s returns, respectively.
Bonds – A bond is fixed-income security that represents a loan made by an investor to a corporation or government entity. Bonds are debt and owners of bonds are creditors to the issuer. Corporations and governments use the money raised by issuing bonds to finance capital projects. Corporations also use bonds to finance M&A. Bonds are tradeable and their prices are inversely related to their interest rates. When the bond price goes up the interest rate comes down and vice versa. Unlike stocks, bonds have a maturity date at which point they must be paid in full at the face value. The owner of the bond receives periodic payments (usually semi-annually) based on the interest rate or coupon. There are five categories of bonds: savings, corporate, municipal, government, and agency. There are different types of bonds: zero-coupon, convertible, callable, and puttable. Since bonds are loans, they have a higher priority than common stock or preferred shares in bankruptcy.
Bull Market – A bull market is one where security prices are trending higher. The term is commonly applied for stock markets and individual stocks but can be used for almost any tradable asset including individual stocks. A bull market occurs after a bear market followed by a rise of 20% or more, and before a second bear market. Because of this definition, a bull market cannot be known a priori but is defined in hindsight. Bull markets occur when the economy is doing well, and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is rising. Investor confidence tends to rise during this time.
Buy the Dip – Buy the dip means that an investor is buying a stock or other security when the price drops due to short-term market action. The dip is often only a short-term drop in the stock price due to unexpected negative news or quarterly earnings results that were not as good as expected. Investors who buy the dip are using a type of dollar-cost averaging strategy. Investors who buy the dip are expecting the stock price to rebound. However, the technique has some risk since the stock price may continue trending down and not recover immediately.
Capital Gain or Loss – A capital gain is a return of profit from a rise in the value of an investment. A capital loss is the opposite and occurs when the value of an investment declines. A capital gain or loss is unrealized until the asset is sold, and this is sometimes referred to as a paper gain or loss. Once the asset is sold the capital gain or loss is realized and thus taxable. A short-term capital gain or loss is when the asset is bought and sold in one year or less. A long-term capital gain or loss is when the asset is bought and sold in more than one year. The difference between short-term and long-term capital gains or losses has tax implications since they are taxed differently.
Certificates of Deposit – Certificates of deposit or CDs is an interest-bearing product that usually pays a higher fixed interest rate than savings accounts or money market accounts. In exchange, the depositor leaves the money with the bank or credit union for a specified period of time. CD interest rates are based on the Federal Funds Rate. CDs are also FDIC or NCUA insured so they are less risky than stocks or bonds.
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Consumer Price Index – The consumer price index (CPI) is a metric that measures the average price changes of a basket of consumer goods and services. Indices are available for the US and different urban areas. The eight categories in the basket are apparel, transportation, education and communication, other goods and services, recreation, medical care, food and beverages, and housing. The CPI is reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics each month. The CPI is the commonly used measure of inflation. The index is set at 100 for 1984. A CPI value of 200 would mean that prices are 100% higher than in 1984.
Cryptocurrency – Cryptocurrency is digital or virtual money. Thousands of cryptocurrencies exist today, but most are obscure and more minor. The first and oldest cryptocurrency is Bitcoin (BTC). It was created and developed by a person or group using the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in 2009. Cryptocurrencies are stored on a network of computers using encryption to record transactions by leveraging blockchain technology. One essential point about cryptocurrencies is that a single person or government does not control them, unlike the US dollar and other national currencies.
Dividend Rate – The dividend rate is the dollar amount paid as a dividend in a year. The dollar amount is often referred to as dollar per share or DPS. This can be the sum of the regular dividends and special dividends. For example, if company A pays a quarterly dividend of $0.25 per share, then the dividend rate is $1.00.
Dividend Reinvestment Plan – A dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) allows shareholders of a company to reinvest the dividend in the company’s stock. DRIP investing is often commission-free. Currently, there are about 650 companies that enable investors to take advantage of DRIP investing. Some companies offer a small discount on the current stock price and an advantage for existing shareholders. In addition, companies, brokerages, and third parties offer DRIP investing.
Dividend Yield – Dividend yield is expressed as a percentage. It is the ratio of the annual dividend rate divided by the current stock price. There are variations in the dividend yield. It can be expressed as the annual dividend yield, which is the current dividend rate for the year divided by the stock price. The forward dividend yield represents the dividend for the next 12 months divided by the stock price. The dividend yield fluctuates with stock price and thus can be a metric for valuation. The dividend yield is important to investors seeking income.
Dollar Cost Averaging – Dollar cost averaging (DCA) is the process of investing the same amount of money in regular intervals. DCA is also referred to as the constant dollar plan. An investor conducts this process systematically regardless of the asset’s price. DCA is intended to remove emotion from investing and avoid the mistake of investing a lump-sum at an elevated price before a down market. The goal of DCA is to reduce volatility in a portfolio and lower cost basis over time. DCA can be applied to any asset but is commonly utilized for index funds, ETFs, and retirement plans. A 401(k) retirement plan is an example of dollar cost averaging. Every pay period, investments are made in a retirement plan regardless of the asset price.
EBIT and EBITDA – Earnings Before Interest & Taxes (EBIT) and Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation & Amortization (EBITDA) are two metrics used to represent a company’s core earnings before accounting and financial costs. The two metrics are a measure of profitability and financial performance. EBIT is operating profit and EBITDA is calculated by adding back depreciation and amortization. This information can be found on a company’s income statement. EBITDA can be used to determine valuation and also the leverage ratio.
Equity – Equity refers to shareholder equity in a publicly-traded company or owner’s equity in a privately held company. In a publicly-traded company, equity is the difference between total assets and debt. If equity is positive, assets exceed the debt, and if equity is negative, debt exceeds assets. Shareholder equity may also be the book value of a company. The book value is not the same as the stock price. The plural form of the word equities means stock ownership.
Exchange-Traded Funds – Exchange-Traded Funds or ETFs are essentially a hybrid between a stock and a mutual fund that has grown in popularity. They are a basket of securities structured as investment trusts that are traded on stock exchanges with characteristics of stocks and usually lower expense ratios than mutual funds. ETFs can be traded at any time the market is open, so the price fluctuates daily. ETFs can hold stocks, bonds, commodities, gold, currency, etc. They can also be focused on a specific country, region, industry, etc. Not all ETFs are the same and larger ones are more liquid and tend to be lower cost.
Ex-Dividend Date – The ex-dividend date is the day when dividend eligibility expires. A shareholder must own the stock before the ex-dividend date to receive the announced dividend. Typically, this is one business day before the record date. This was changed in September 2017 from two days before the record date to one day. If you purchase a stock on or after the ex-dividend date you will not receive the dividend.
Expense Ratio – Expense ratio (ER) is the annual fee charged by a mutual fund expressed as a percentage. It is also known as the management expense ratio (MER). The expense ratio is the percentage of your money in a mutual fund that the asset manager takes to run the fund. It includes costs such as administrative fees, record-keeping fees, custodial services, taxes, legal fees, auditing fees, advertising, and other operating expenses. It does not include redemption fees or trading expenses. The expense ratio is determined by the operating expenses divided by the assets under management (AUM). All things being equal between two funds, you want one with a lower expense ratio since expense ratios adversely impact your returns.
Fixed Interest Rate – A fixed interest rate is a constant rate that never changes with time. It is set once at the start of the loan and the rate remains the same. A fixed interest rate is very commonly found in mortgage loans, home equity lines of credit, federal student loans, and car loans. A fixed-rate for a mortgage depends on many things including the buyer’s credit history, the spread between interest on money the bank lends and the interest it pays on deposits, and the Federal Funds Rate.
Free Cash Flow – Free cash flow (FCF) measures cash after accounting for working capital and capital expenditures (CAPEX). It is determined by taking the operating cash flow or cash from operations and subtracting capital expenditures. If a company has a negative FCF, it will need to issue debt to make up the difference. FCF can be used for payment of dividends, share repurchases, and reducing total debt. FCF can be used as a measure of a company’s health.
Hedge Fund – A hedge fund is an actively managed investment vehicle comprised of pooled money from investors. The hedge fund’s managers typically use non-traditional investment strategies and leverage to invest in alternative assets. Hedge funds are riskier than stocks or bonds. They often have high fees. As a result, hedge funds have erratic performance. Hedge funds are only available to accredited investors.
Index – An index measures the performance of a basket of securities using a standardized method. An index can be constructed from almost any tradable asset including stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, etc. An index tracks the performance of the securities in the index. Indices are used as benchmarks to evaluate an investment’s performance. Popular and well-known indices are the S&P 500, NASDAQ-100, the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, and the Dow 30.
Index Fund – An index fund is a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that passively tracks an index. The securities held by the index fund are usually comprised of the securities in the index. Index funds follow the benchmark index regardless of market action, unlike an actively managed fund. Index funds are characterized by diversification, low expense ratios, and low turnover. Many retirement accounts offer index funds.
Individual Retirement Account – An individual retirement account (IRA) is a type of retirement account that offers tax advantages. There are four types of IRAs: traditional, Roth, SEP, and SIMPLE. The traditional IRA allows the investor to make tax-deductible contributions, but withdrawals are taxed. The Roth IRA is not tax-deductible but lets you make tax-free withdrawals. There are more differences between the Roth and Traditional IRA. The SEP IRA is the same as the traditional IRA but for self-employed workers. The SIMPLE IRA is also for small businesses and self-employed works and follows the rules of traditional IRAs. The acronym SIMPLE stands for savings incentive match plan for employees. Both the employee and employer must make contributions.
Inflation Protected Bonds – Inflation protected bonds (I Bonds) are US Government savings bonds. Electronic I Bonds can be purchased electronically from the US Treasury, or paper I Bonds can be bought with federal tax refunds. I Bonds pay interest for 30-years. However, they must be owned for a minimum of one year. If an I Bond is redeemed between 1-year and 5-years, there is a 3-month interest penalty. The interest on I Bonds is tax-deferred and not subject to state or local taxes. I Bonds have a composite interest rate comprised of the fixed-rate plus the inflation rate. The rates are set semi-annually by the US Treasury. The minimum purchase is $25 for electronic I Bonds and $50 for the paper I Bonds. The maximum investment is $10,000 for electronic I Bonds and $5,000 for paper I Bonds.
Interest – This is the amount you pay for borrowing money. It is often expressed as a percentage and referred to as an interest rate when you take out the loan. For instance, if you take out a home equity loan for $10,000 with a 5% interest rate you will pay the principal amount of $10,000 plus the interest. The interest is $1,322,74 in a 5-year loan.
Margin – Margin is using borrowed money to invest. The borrowed money comes from the broker and the stocks in your account are collateral. The borrowed money is a loan and has an interest rate that must be paid periodically. Buying on margin amplifies gains and losses. Hence, it is riskier since your broker may initiate a margin call when stock prices drop. In this case, you must add cash to your account, or your broker can sell stocks in your account if you do not meet the margin call.
Market Capitalization – Market capitalization is a company’s total value of all shares. This is calculated by taking the current share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. For example, if Company A has 100 million shares trading at $50 per share the market capitalization is $5 billion. Large-cap stocks are $10 billion or more, mid-cap stocks are between $2 and $10 billion, small-cap stocks are between $300 million and $2 billion.
Market Correction – A market correction is the decline of (-10%) or more but less than (-20%). The term is applied to any tradable asset, but it is commonly used for the stock market, indices, and individual stocks. Market corrections are short-term. The average market correction was for (-13%) and lasted about four months. Market corrections are more common than bear markets.
Money Market Account – Money market accounts (MMA) is an interest-bearing account but with the ability to write checks. There is usually a limit on the number of checks and transfers. MMAs tend to have higher interest rates than savings accounts but require higher balances. MMAs invest in CDs, government bonds, and commercial paper allowing them to have higher interest rates. Interest rates on MMs are variable. MMAs are FDIC and NCUA insured.
Mutual Fund – A mutual fund is money that is pooled together from many investors in a common investment vehicle. The money can be used to invest in stocks, bonds, gold, cash, and other tradable securities. Investment decisions are made by the fund manager. Mutual fund share prices are determined one per day but take the net asset value (NAV) and divide it by the total number of shares. Unlike stock prices, mutual fund share prices do not fluctuate daily. There are many types of mutual funds including stock or equity funds, fixed-income funds, index funds, balanced funds, money market funds, income funds, high-yield funds, international and global funds, regional funds, and specialty funds.
Net Interest Margin – Net interest margin is a measure of bank profitability. The metric takes the net interest income from loans and mortgages and subtracts the interest paid on deposits divided by average assets earning interest. The net interest margin is conceptually similar to the net interest spread. In general, a higher net interest margin means the bank is more profitable. A bank with a large quantity of non-performing assets will have a low net interest margin. A typical net interest margin for a large US bank is around 3%.
Operating Cash Flow – Operating cash flow (OCF) or cash from operations is the quantity of cash generated from a company’s normal business operations. OCF does not include working capital or capital expenditures. This metric determines if a company can sustain its operations and grow without additional debt. OCF does not include the impact of taxes or interest expenses.
Payment Date (Dividend) – The payment date is when the company actually distributes the dividend to shareholders who are eligible to receive the dividend. The payment date is typically two to four weeks after the record date.
Payout Ratio – The payout ratio also known as the dividend payout ratio illustrates the percentage of earnings a company pays as a dividend. It is expressed as the annual total dividend rate divided by the annual earnings. The payout ratio is an important metric for dividend safety. If the payout ratio is more than 100% then the company pays out more than its earnings as a dividend.
Per Capita – Per capita is the average per person. The phrase literally means per head when translated from Latin. In economics and statistics, it is usually used in the context of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Income (GNI) calculations to compare countries with different populations. For example, in 2021, The US GDP was about $22 trillion. The US population is approximately 334 million in 2021, giving a GDP per capita of $66,000.
Price-to-Earnings Ratio – Price-to-earnings ratio or PE ratio is a valuation metric that is based on stock price and earnings per share. For instance, if the stock price is $100 and a company earns $5 per share the P/E ratio is 25X. Analysts often use the P/E ratio to determine estimated future valuation. This is done by making earnings estimates in future years and using a historical average P/E ratio to calculate a future estimated fair value. The long-term average P/E ratio for the stock market is approximately 15X to 16X. If a stock is trading above its average P/E ratio it may be overvalued. If a stock is trading below its average P/E ratio it may be undervalued.
Principal – The principal is the dollar amount for a loan. It is the amount that you must pay back plus the interest. If you take out a car loan for $20,000 the principal amount is $20,000. Your monthly payments will go partially to pay the principal and to the interest until the principal amount is paid off.
Qualified Dividends – Qualified dividends are taxed at the long-term capital gains rate. In order to be considered a qualified dividend the dividend must meet the following criteria:
- Paid by a U.S. company or a company in U.S. possession
- Paid by a foreign company residing in a country that is eligible for benefits under a U.S. tax treaty
- Paid by a foreign company that can be easily traded on a major U.S. stock market
- The stock must have been held for more than 60 days during the 121-day period beginning 60 days before the ex-dividend date
Rate of Return – The rate of return (RoR) is the net gain or loss of an investment over a period of time. The RoR is the percentage change from the initial cost of the investment. Inflation is accounted for in the real RoR but not in the simple RoR (also called the nominal RoR). An RoR can be calculated for stocks, bonds, real estate, etc. The rate of return does not consider time; however, the internal rate of return (IRR) takes into account time. The formula for RoR is the difference between the current and initial values divided by the initial value and multiplied by 100%.
Record Date (Dividend) – The record date is the cutoff date to determine which shareholders are eligible to receive the announced dividend. This is the date that the company must have you listed as a shareholder in order to receive the just-announced dividend.
Regular Dividends – This is the periodic dividend paid to shareholders. In the U.S. and Canada, regular dividends are typically paid quarterly. Some companies pay monthly or annual dividends. In Europe and Japan, regular dividends are usually paid semi-annually or annually.
Special Dividends – An irregular cash or stock dividend. This type of dividend is usually paid periodically from excess capital. It is a non-recurring dividend. A special dividend can also be paid when a company conducts a major financial transaction such as a merger, acquisition, or divesture.
Stocks – Stocks or equities is a tradable security that represents fractional ownership in a specific corporation. A stock works by entitling the owner to a proportion of the corporation’s profits, which is paid through dividends or share repurchases. Stocks are traded on stock exchanges. Corporations sell stock to raise capital for business operations or M&A. The owner of a stock owns shares in a corporation and not the corporation. There are two main types of stock: common and preferred. Owners of common stock can vote at shareholder meetings. Owners of preferred shares generally can’t vote but may have a higher dividend yield and have a higher claim on assets and earnings. This means that in event of bankruptcy they have a higher priority than owners of commons stock.
Stock Dividends – This is the payout of a dividend in shares of the company’s stock. This is done by some companies, but it is not as common as a regular dividend.
Stock Split – A stock split is when a company increases the number of shares to increase liquidity. In effect, there are more shares to trade. However, a stock split does not increase the total market capitalization since the share price drops in proportion to the stock split. The most common stock split ratios are 2:1 or 3:2, which means a stockholder will receive two shares for every one they hold or three shares for every two they have. A reverse stock split is the opposite of a stock split. For example, Apple (APPL) conducted a 4:1 stock split in August 2020. The share price was about $540 before the split and was around $135 after the split. As a result, the total number of shares increased four times to approximately 13.6 billion from 3.4 billion.
Tax-Loss Harvesting – Tax-loss harvesting is when an investor sells an investment at a loss to offset realized capital gains. The term tax-loss harvesting is also known as tax-loss selling. By employing a tax-loss harvesting strategy, you can reduce your taxable capital gains. In addition, if the realized losses are more than $3,000, an investor can offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income for a married couple filing jointly. Losses beyond $3,000 can be carried over to offset realized capital gains or income in future years. Investors should understand the difference between short-term and long-term capital gains since they are taxed at different rates. Short-term capital gains are from investments held for less than one year, while long-term capital gains are from investments held for more than one year. Short-term capital gains are taxed at the ordinary income tax rate. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on an investor’s income.
Turnover Ratio – Turnover ratio is the percentage of a fund’s stocks or bonds that are replaced in the past year. For instance, if a fund owns 100 stocks and replaces 75 in the past 12 months, the turnover ratios would be 75%. A higher turnover ratio is an indicator of more trading and associated costs. A higher turnover ratio also indicates that taxes from capital gains distribution may be higher. Index funds and ETFs tend to have lower turnover ratios compared to actively managed funds.
Variable Interest Rate – A variable interest rate is also knowns as an adjustable or floating interest rate. It fluctuates with time-based on an underlying benchmark interest rate or index. If the underlying interest rate increases or decreases, then the variable interest rate simultaneously changes. The most common benchmark is the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) or Federal Funds Rate or prime rate. Variable interest rates are found in adjustable-rate mortgages, credit cards, corporate bonds, and other securities. As an example, if a credit card interest rate is the prime rate of 3.25% plus 12% your credit card rate will be 15.25%.
Volatility – Volatility is a term that defines the fluctuation of a tradable asset price. It measures how much the prices fluctuate around the mean. Volatility is represented by the beta coefficient, option pricing models, and standard deviation of returns. It is a statistical measure. An asset that is more volatile is considered riskier since the stock price fluctuates over a greater range. Beta is commonly used as a measure of volatility for a stock. Beta measures the volatility relative to a reference benchmark, such as the S&P 500. In this case, the S&P 500 would have a beta of 1.0. A stock would then have a beta more or less than the S&P 500. If a stock has a beta of 1.2 it would move 120% for every 100% the S&P 500 moved. On the other hand, if a stock has a beta of 0.5 it would move 50% for every 100% the S&P 500 moved. Another useful volatility metric is the CBOE VIX. It is a gauge of bets that traders are making in the direction of the stock market. A higher VIX implies a riskier stock market.
The list of financial literacy terms is long and goes on for hundreds of definitions. However, the above finance words are very common and should be known and understood by most investors pursuing FIRE. It is important to expand your financial vocabulary to make better investment decisions. I will add to the list of financial literacy terms periodically.
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