Americans may understand their 401(k), stock and mutual fund investments fairly well, but when it comes to variable life insurance and annuities, there is a considerable lack of knowledge, according to a recent study of high income professionals conducted by Nationwide Financial Services of Columbus, Ohio.

The 2001 Nationwide Financial High Income Survey polled 500 people under the age of 60 with annual incomes above $150,000, according to Nationwide. The pool of respondents was made up of doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, small business owners and high-tech executives.

About 71 percent of the respondents said they had considerable knowledge of their 401(k) investments, 58 percent understand their stocks, and 61 percent their mutual funds, according to Nationwide. However, only 18 percent reported substantial knowledge of variable life insurance and annuities, the company said. Thirty percent said they had considerable knowledge of bonds.

"If the most educated, financially successful people in America don't understand all their financial options, it would be a surprise if the rest of the country wasn't in much the same place," said Kim Greer, vice president for Nationwide Financial, in a statement. "This lack of knowledge comes at a pivotal point in retirement history. The market is volatile and Americans must shoulder more of the burden themselves for their incomes during retirement."

The findings emphasize the importance of education on the part of advisors about all investment options, according to the company.

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