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Planning your financial future

Personal finance glossary: Basic terms you should know

When it comes to personal finance, knowing the necessary vocabulary can help you achieve a better understanding of how you can prepare for the future.

It's essential to stay on top of your personal finances and work toward your long-term goals. But as you learn more about how to achieve those goals, you may hear new financial terms that can make the process feel overwhelming and confusing. This is especially true if you're just starting to think critically about your finances.

The below glossary explains some basic terms and definitions you may want to understand as you embark on your personal finance journey.

Personal finance glossary


A budget is an estimation of your income and expenses. It allows you to track and plan how you will spend your money, which can help you make financial decisions around paying off debt and saving for retirement.


Credit is what's given when a lender grants a borrower money in exchange for later payment. The credit limit on your credit card is a good example. Check out these credit FAQs to learn more.

Credit score

Your credit score is a number between 280-850, depending on the credit bureau. It is meant to show how creditworthy an individual is. The higher the score the better your credit, and you can see some financial benefits from this such as better terms on loans.


This is money that's borrowed that needs to be paid back. For example, your mortgage is a debt you owe to the bank.

Emergency fund

This is money that's set aside for use in case of an emergency. Depending on how much you have saved, an emergency fund could cover long-term expenses if you lose your job or with short-term unexpected events such as a car repair.


Expenses are what you spend money on. Expenses include common household bills, credit card payments, groceries and anything else that costs.

Financial advisor

While the term is broad, covering a variety of specialties and certifications, a financial advisor is a professional with skills and knowledge to assist with a range of financial matters. They can help you make decisions around managing your money for long-term planning, including retirement and your kids' education, buying a home or more short-term dreams such as buying a car.

Health savings account

Also known as an HSA, this is a type of savings account with certain tax benefits. You can use your HSA to pay for out-of-pocket medical costs.


The money you bring in on a regular basis through your job, investments or other source. In terms of making a budget, be sure to use your take-home pay, which is your income after taxes, benefits and other deductions.

Life insurance

Life insurance is a tool that can help protect your family financially in the event of your passing. For a life insurance policy, you'll select the amount and type of coverage you need and then pay a premium over a certain time period. Want to know how much life insurance coverage you may need? Try our life insurance needs calculator.

Money market account

A money market account is a deposit account offered by banks and credit unions that may offer higher interest rates on your savings and often includes check-writing. For instance, you can typically write checks and use a debit card to withdraw funds from a money market account, although the account may have minimum balance requirements and limits on how frequently you can access your money each month.


This is a loan granted to purchase a piece of property where the lender charges interest and can take the title to the property if payments are not made. You make payments toward your mortgage regularly over a certain period of time, generally 15 or 30 years.

Retirement account

Retirement accounts are where you can invest money for future retirement funds. These can include employer-sponsored 401(k)s as well as individual retirement accounts. Saving for retirement is often a key focus of personal financial planning.

Savings account

A savings account is an account at a bank or credit union where you can deposit funds and earn a small amount of interest.

Stock market

The stock market functions as a place where buyers and sellers converge to exchange money for securities in an orderly fashion. The persons who make an orderly market in stocks are known as market makers, and they are the ones who actually facilitate the trades that happen on a daily basis. Orders are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis, and as with any other type of good, there is a wholesale price, known as the bid price, and the ask price, which is the retail price for the stock or bond. Some buyers and sellers are willing to buy or sell their shares at whatever the current bid or ask price is. They must therefore place a “market” order, which will execute at whatever the current price is when it is their turn for their order to be filled. The market maker gets to keep the difference between the bid and ask prices as compensation for providing a market. Understanding how the stock market works can help you make better financial decisions. Speak with a financial professional if you’d like to learn more about the stock market.


A will is a document that spells out how you would like your estate to be handled after your death. When formally probated, a will can help ensure that your money and assets are left to the heirs you designate.

Your journey to understanding personal finance doesn't have to be complicated.

Everything you learn along the way can help as you think about your short- and long-term financial goals.

Want to learn more about personal financial planning? Check out these six personal financial planning tips.


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All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective or its subsidiaries.

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