Four out of five Americans have failed a financial literacy test conducted by Merrill Lynch, the national brokerage house.

They were unable, for example, to name the chairman of the Fed, or say what level the Dow is at these days.

But the minority that passed the test showed a lot of knowledge of mortgage interest rates, interest rate compounding, and the different rates of return on various investments.

But the scores showed a limited knowledge of such hotly debated topics as the top federal tax rate and the size of the federal deficit.

Respondents also knew little about unemployment and inflation rates, even at a time of great public concern about the state of the nation's economy.

"These questions form a good measure of what we're calling `financial literacy' and, even given generous scoring parameters, the results are shockingly low," said Daniel P. Tully, chairman and chief executive officer.

We wonder why people know so much about mortgage rates. Perhaps the industry has done a good job of getting out the word.

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