You don’t have to learn everything about money at once, but a course can teach you a lot of useful information at a reasonable pace. Especially if you never learned personal finance to begin with, a course will help you get up to speed on the basics. Here are some of the best personal finance courses available. Even better, they’re all free.
Family Finance, Utah State University
Alena Johnson, a Family, Consumer, and Human Development professor at Utah State, teaches this 14-unit course. All the lessons are downloadable and available via PDF, so you can read and walk through them yourself. According to the syllabus, they’re about 100 minutes long. You’ll learn everything from basic budgeting to taxes to deciding whether to buy or lease a car. You get assignments for each unit, too, and they’re actionable next steps you can take to get your own finances in order. For example:
FINANCIAL FILE – create your own personal financial file. The following folders are required for full credit: personal information (SS card, birth certificate, immunization record, etc.), financial statements (put the worksheets from the Financial Checkup in here as well as your credit history and SS benefit statement), debt or loans, checking or savings accounts, insurance, and taxes. You may add any you would like to, but you must have at least all of the mentioned files for full credit, even if you currently have no information for any particular file. After you have completed the file, write down each file’s name and a list of what is included in each file. Turn in the written paper.
The course focuses on personal values and goals, a crucial first step to managing money. By the end of it all, you’ll define your values and be able to come up with a financial plan that supports those values.
Managing My Money, the Open University
This free, eight-week course offers “practical guidance on managing your money,” according to its lead, Martin Upton. You have to sign up for the course and it’s offered a couple of times a year (the next is January 9, 2017). You’ll learn the basics of money management, including:
- Creating a budget
- Managing debts and investments
- How mortgages work
- How pensions are handled and to build retirement savings and more.
The course is UK-based, but it still covers topics for a global audience. Along with each lesson, you’ll get the framework and actionable tasks you need to apply those lessons to your own finances. The course lasts eight weeks and requires three hours of your time per week.
Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning, the University of California-Irvine
The University of California offers this course for free and it’s aimed at people who can’t afford extensive financial planning but still want to get their finances in shape. The University created it with a grant from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and focuses on eight general topics:
- Figuring Out Where You Are Financially
- Defense: Keeping Bad Things From Interrupting Your Goals
- Funding Retirement
- College Planning
- Estate Planning Basics
Each objective includes 1-6 lessons each and, since it’s self-guided, you can pick and choose different topics. You walk through each lesson online and you get a quick rundown of the objectives you’ll accomplish by the end. Here’s an overview of the “Calculating Retirement Need” module, for example:
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
- Use the Estimating Retirement Need Calculator to determine the projected amount of capital that you need to get through your retirement according to your needs.
- Use the When Can I Retire? Calculator to determine the age at which you will have attained the amount of capital you need to get through your retirement as planned.
It takes about 25 to 30 hours to get through the entire course.
Free Personal Finance Course, the University of Arizona
This online course quizzes you after a series of lessons on various topics, from budgeting to investing. You don’t have to enroll and you can take the course at your own pace. Each lesson is basically a long explainer post but it’s organized to help you go through the basic to more advanced topics of personal finance.
Start to finish, the course is about 15 hours long. It’s part of the University’s Take Charge America Institute, an organization dedicated to financial literacy. They’ve also launched Consumer Jungle, an interactive online program for high school students to learn the basics of consumer and financial literacy.
An Introduction to Credit Risk Management at Delft University of Technology
Credit is tricky, and this course breaks down the basics of how it works. It includes a lot of technical information, but it’s ideal if you’re looking to improve your rating or just learn the ins and outs of the credit industry. Here are a few things you’ll learn:
- The definition and the implications of credit risk for banks and other financial institutions
- The definition and the use of credit ratings
- The basics of Credit Default Swaps (CDS)
- What stress-testing is and why it is useful
The course approaches credit both from the consumer perspective and the organizational level, which can be helpful, but you can also skip around the unit, too, as it’s entirely self-guided. The course is about 48 hours long, start to finish.
Planning for a Secure Retirement, Purdue University
This online, self-guided course includes 10 modules that teach you the basics of retirement planning. It comes with interactive questionnaires, personality profiles, and calculators so you can customize your own retirement plan. You’ll have to download this retirement guide to use with each lesson, too.
Each module is organized into several separate lessons with specific goals. Here’s what you’ll navigate in Module 1, for example:
1a: Retirement readiness rating
Identify personality traits related to the way in which you manage your money.
1b: Life expectancy calculators
Estimate how long you will live.
1c: Risk tolerance
Determine your level of risk tolerance for saving and investing.
1d: Your retirement lifestyle
Describe what you want in retirement.
By Module 10, you’ll also learn about estate planning, long-term care, and federal assistance programs for seniors.
Of course, we’ve created our own useful guides to help you learn personal finance basics, and you can find them here:
In fact, there are plenty of free resources to help you learn more about money, but sometimes it’s useful to have those lessons already organized for you. A course is designed to guide you through the basics so you can advance to more complicated topics and ensure you master each one. If you’re looking for a little help with Money 101, these guides will get you started.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.