If you're an American, chances are you have debt.

Lots of it.

The average American family has over $137,000 of debt. This includes nearly $16,000 in credit card debt, which, at a 15 percent APR and with minimum monthly payments of $250, would take over 10 years to pay off.

According to a Personal Capital survey, about 32 percent of Americans believe a financial adviser is likely to take advantage of them. And of the 54 percent of Americans who choose not to work with a financial adviser, just under half (45 percent) cite lack of trust as the reason they don't.

In other words, a lot of people who could really use solid financial advice don't get it, either because they don't believe they can afford a financial adviser, or because they feel that an adviser would just take advantage of them.

This is a problem.

What's also a problem is the general lack of financial understanding overall. Only 6 percent of those who take this relatively basic financial literacy quiz by Financial Engines actually pass it. (If you do try it, don't cheat by Googling the answers -- that defeats the purpose).

I'm among the 96 percent who failed -- I'm not proud to report that I got only 6 of 11 correct. If it were a high school exam, I would have gotten an F.

The fact is, Americans could use better solutions when it comes to managing personal finances.

The rise of technology can help, with companies like Mint giving you more insight and clarity around your financial behavior. You can also use free tools like ourLibra, which is basically an automated financial adviser: It uses algorithms to analyze your financial situation, then makes concrete suggestions on what to do to save money.

It's not insubstantial, either: The typical American family will save $25,951 in debt by using ourLibra over 20 years, according to the company. 

The company's founder, George Mathew, originally designed the software after working in finance for over 20 years, managing more than $20 billion worth of deals at firms like Morgan Stanley. He helped corporations manage debt and maximize investments, and also came to a vivid realization--that, in his words, "most ordinary Americans get lousy financial advice."

OurLibra is supposed to help in an accessible way. Instead of making an (expensive) appointment with a financial adviser from Goldman, you just input your accounts and basic data (like Mint). Then it shows you how to optimize your assets and debt. Plus (and this is arguably the most relevant part), on an ongoing basis, the company notifies you when a better allocation is possible. It's constantly scanning for the advantage.

"We believe everyone deserves access to quality financial advice," the startup says. "We're using the power of automation to give you advice that normally costs thousands of dollars a year, or comes with strings attached."

OurLibra's initial analysis of its users showed that a lot of people had high-interest credit card debt but had responsible financial behavior, so it started offering "Libra Loans," which are loans up to $2,500 at a 9.99 percent APR. For the average person, that savings of a few hundred dollars a month is substantial, and nothing to scoff at.

The rise of artificial intelligence and robots is often seen as scary or intimidating. But it's encouraging to know that it can also be used for practical good--in this case, with something as important and personal as your finances. On ourLibra, one user said, "it's basically like having a friendly grandpa who lives on your phone and is always watching out for your money."

Thanks, grandpa. And don't be afraid to slip me a $20 while mom's not looking--I promise to use it to pay down my debt.

Published on: Feb 10, 2019