Sometimes the biggest barrier between understanding personal finance and crippling confusion is the jargon associated with it. As it turns out, a lot of head-scratching finance terms represent really simple concepts (we’re not counting cryptocurrency; what the hell is that?). To prove it, we’ve provided a list of definitions to a few personal finance terms you might pretend to know, but really don’t. We got you.


Any resource or item that has economic value. Assets can be tangible, like a car or a laptop, or can be the promise of future money, like the security deposit on your apartment or a copyright.


A loan that a bank gives you to help purchase a piece of property. Paying back a mortgage is like paying your landlord for rent, but when you reach a certain point, your landlord just gives you the house. Heyo!


A temporary claim on property that you haven’t purchased in full. A mortgage is a type of lien, as is a car loan. A bank can also put a lien on your property when you fail to repay bank loans. These kinds of liens keep homeowners from selling or refinancing their property until they’re paid off.


A retirement plan offered through an employer where employees can automatically contribute a part of their salary to a retirement fund. Under a 401(k), employers can offer to match an employee’s’ monthly contribution (highly recommended—it’s essentially free money).

Traditional IRA

Unlike a 401(k) plan, an Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) is a retirement plan that doesn’t have to be set up by your employer.

Roth IRA

The famous sibling of the standard IRA. The main difference comes down to deciding which plan is more appealing: Being taxed a small amount every year or getting hit with a large tax when you withdraw the money when you retire. If you like the first option, go with a Roth.

Credit score

This number attempts to reflect a person’s reliability when it comes to paying back loans. A high credit score (which is good) means you regularly pay your credit card bills, student loan payment, or any other loaned cash back on time. Banks often use a credit score to determine whether or not to loan money to someone, and what the interest rate on that loan should be.

High Yield Savings Account

Like its name suggests, this type of account offers a higher interest rate than traditional savings accounts, meaning you’ll get a better return on your initial deposit. High yield savings accounts are mostly offered through online banks that can afford to hand out high interest rates since they don’t have to cover the standard operating costs of a brick-and-mortar bank. However, having money busheled away online means it can sometimes take days to transfer funds from a high yield account to your regular checking account. (This doesn’t help in an emergency.)


A partial ownership in a company. When you buy stocks, you become a shareholder. In exchange for helping bankroll a growing company, you’re given some control over the company. If the company succeeds, you succeed: Stocks don’t bring in any money until you sell them at a time when the company’s doing extremely well, which increases the worth of your stock.


A loan made to a large organization, including a government entity (you may recall voting on the Portland Housing Bond in 2016). When you purchase a bond (which is different than approving a bond on a ballot), you can profit off the incremental interest payments the organization pays on that loan.


This wonky term has a few different meanings in the labyrinthine world of accounting. But there’s only one an average consumer should familiarize themselves with, and it has to do with loans. Amortizing is the process of scheduling out fixed payments on a loan over time, like deciding how much of your student loan debt you should repay each month.