What is Finance?

Robinhood Learn
Democratize finance for all. Our writers’ work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, Quartz, the San Francisco Chronicle, and more.

Finance is everything that has to do with managing money, including activities such as budgeting, saving, lending, borrowing, and investing.

Main article image
Main article image

🤔 Understanding finance

Finance is a broad term that describes all the activities that go into managing money. In an academic setting, finance is a branch of economics that focuses on things like resource distribution, risk, and return. In a practical context, finance includes all of the activities we do to make, manage, and save money. There are several different types of finance, including personal finance, corporate finance, public finance, social finance, and behavioral finance. Whether on a large or small scale, finance impacts each of our lives on some level.


Personal finance is an area of finance most of us are familiar with. It consists of all the activities that go into managing your individual finances, from budgeting to saving to investing. So when you sit down every month to update your monthly budget and pay your bills, this falls under the umbrella of finance.


Finance is like the circuit breaker panel in your house...

It keeps everything up and running: households, corporations, and even nations. It includes everything from your credit card to government debt. The more you know about it, and the more you take care of it, the more smoothly everything runs.

Ready to start investing?
Sign up for Robinhood and get your first stock on us.
Sign up for Robinhood
Certain limitations apply

The free stock offer is available to new users only, subject to the terms and conditions at rbnhd.co/freestock. Free stock chosen randomly from the program’s inventory. Securities trading is offered through Robinhood Financial LLC.

Tell me more…

What are the different types of finance?

Finance is like an umbrella — Lots of different activities fit under it. Some are activities individuals do, while others take place on the scale of a company, government, or beyond. There are three main types of finance: personal finance, corporate finance, and public finance. Two other types of finance have appeared on the scene only recently: social finance and behavioral finance.

Personal finance

Personal finance is the management of your money as an individual or a household. This involves all the activities you do to manage your money: creating a budget, paying monthly bills, signing up for credit cards, filing taxes, putting money into savings and retirement accounts, investing, and more. Personal finance also includes the big-picture planning that goes into managing your household finances. This means forecasting your earnings and expenses and balancing your current needs and wants with long-term financial goals.

Personal finance breaks down into five main areas:

  • Income: This refers to the money flowing in for an individual or household. It consists of salaries, bonuses, wages, pensions, dividends, and any other funds you receive.
  • Spending: This refers to the outgoing cash spent on goods and services each month. It includes expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, food, taxes, entertainment, and more.
  • Savings: This refers to what’s left from what you earn after your spending each month. This can be money going into a checking or savings account, funds you invest, or even cash stashed your mattress (which isn’t necessarily recommended).
  • Investing: This refers to money spent on investments you expect to provide a return with the hope of growing your wealth. Investing isn’t a sure thing — You run the risk of not seeing a return or of losing your money altogether. Investments include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, real estate, and more.
  • Protection: This refers to the money spent to protect yourself from an unforeseen problem. These protections can include health insurance, life insurance, and homeowners insurance.

Corporate finance

Corporate finance, also known as business finance, consists of the financial management and capital structure (the combination of debt and the shares owned by shareholders) of a company. Corporate finance includes the actions that company leaders take to increase the company’s value and distribute financial resources. For example, corporate finance would include a decision by a company either to take on debt in the form or a loan or line of credit or to increase equity by selling shares of stock. A company might choose to have an initial public offering (IPO), in which it issues public stock shares for the first time to raise funds, or to borrow money from a bank. The goal of a company is usually to increase profits, so corporate finance consists of the financial decisions they make to reach that goal.

Public finance

Public finance is the management of government debt (money it owes), revenue (money it receives), and expenditures (money it spends). Government revenue consists primarily of taxes, fees, and fines, while expenditures include mostly infrastructure and government programs.

To see a particular government’s public finances, look no further than its budget. There you’ll see projected revenue, as well as a plan for spending money. A governmental body usually approves the budget, whether that’s Congress and the president, state legislatures and governors, or city councils.

Another vital component of public finance, especially for the federal government, is the national debt, which grows the government spends more money than it brings in.

Social finance

Social finance is a type of money management that places importance not only on financial returns but also on social impact. Though social finance can include money going to charitable organizations, it generally comes in the form of an investment or a loan rather than a donation and holds the promise of CKl, a financial return for the investor.

Besides investments in charities, social finance can include microfinance, often in the form of small business loans to disadvantaged entrepreneurs. It can include investments in businesses that are driven by a social or environmental mission.

Social finance is a way for investors to make money while trying to improve society.

Behavioral finance

Behavioral finance is the study of the psychology behind financial decisions. Behavioral finance can help explain situations where individuals make financial decisions that aren’t rational.

Though traditional finance assumes the market and the investors in it are rational, that’s not necessarily the case of individual people. Behavioral finance studies anomalies that occur in finance because of human behavior.

What is the difference between finance vs. economics vs. accounting?

While there’s definitely a relationship between finance, economics, and accounting, the three are not identical.

Economics is a social science that studies how different elements of the economy work together. On a large scale, economics studies the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services. Macroeconomics focuses on the big-picture behavior of the economy, while microeconomics studies the behavior of individual people or companies.

Finance occurs at the microeconomic level and describes the management of money by an individual, company, or government.

Accounting exists on an even more micro level. An accountant (someone who does accounting) tracks the finances of businesses or individuals. They monitor incoming and outgoing cash flow, analyze budgets, and predict the financial impact of different decisions.

Finance, economics, and accounting are interrelated and often cross paths, but they operate at different levels and have different goals.

What financial terms should I know?

If you’re new to the world of finance, some of the vocabulary might sound a bit foreign. Let’s break down some of the words you’ll often see in finance:

  • Asset: A resource owned by a person or company that has economic value, such as a house or car.
  • Balance Sheet: A financial statement that summarizes a company’s financial situation, including assets and liabilities.
  • Cash Flow: This is the amount of money going in and coming out of a business.
  • Debt: An amount of money a person or company borrowed and must pay back (often with interest).
  • Equity: In finance, equity typically refers to the amount of money that owners or shareholders of a company would receive if all assets were sold off and all debt was paid.
  • Expenditure: The money a person or company spends.
  • Income Statement: A financial statement that shows a company’s revenue, expenses, and profit for a given time period.
  • Interest: The fee paid on money borrowed.
  • Investing: Allocating resources to certain projects or assets with the expectation of seeing a return.
  • Liability: Debt that a person or company owes.
  • Net Worth: The difference between a person’s or company’s assets and liabilities.
  • Revenue: The money earned by a person or company.
  • Securities: Financial assets that can be traded, such as stocks or bonds.
  • Shareholder: Someone who owns shares of stock in a company.
  • Stock Market: A market that brings together buyers and sellers of stock shares.
Ready to start investing?
Sign up for Robinhood and get your first stock on us.Certain limitations apply

The free stock offer is available to new users only, subject to the terms and conditions at rbnhd.co/freestock. Free stock chosen randomly from the program’s inventory. Securities trading is offered through Robinhood Financial LLC.


Related Articles

You May Also Like

The 3-minute newsletter with fresh takes on the financial news you need to start your day.
The 3-minute newsletter with fresh takes on the financial news you need to start your day.

© 2022 Robinhood. All rights reserved.

This information is educational, and is not an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security. This information is not a recommendation to buy, hold, or sell an investment or financial product, or take any action. This information is neither individualized nor a research report, and must not serve as the basis for any investment decision. All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of capital. Past performance does not guarantee future results or returns. Before making decisions with legal, tax, or accounting effects, you should consult appropriate professionals. Information is from sources deemed reliable on the date of publication, but Robinhood does not guarantee its accuracy.

Robinhood Financial LLC (member SIPC), is a registered broker dealer. Robinhood Securities, LLC (member SIPC), provides brokerage clearing services. Robinhood Crypto, LLC provides crypto currency trading. All are subsidiaries of Robinhood Markets, Inc. (‘Robinhood’).