Here's Why It Pays Not to Be Nice

"Nice guys finish last" may be a hopelessly outdated cliché, but it might not be totally bunk. According to research just published by the American Psychological Association, your propensity toward kindness could have a big effect on your financial future.

Researchers from Columbia University and University College London wanted to know how personality ties into personal wealth. You may have your own feelings about whether the very well-off are nasty Scrooges or worthy philanthropists; you may have similar opinions about those who struggle a little more. By using a gigantic data set collected over the space of decades, the researchers were able to correlate some personality traits toward more or less monetary success.

Those who scored high on agreeableness did tend to have a harder time building wealth, staying out of debt, and avoiding bankruptcy. It wasn't anything inherent in their money skills, however: It's just that highly agreeable individuals seemed not to care quite as much about money, and thus were more prone to financial mistakes. This held true across all socioeconomic groups, but the effect was more pronounced among lower-income groups, where wealth did a better job of masking their habits.

Even if you don't think of yourself as mean, it's always worth your time to beef up on financial know-how. Studies have shown that financial literacy early in life makes your golden years way more enjoyable. The good thing about personality is that it has nothing to do with how well you can teach yourself and improve.