Massey University researchers are starting a 20-year longitudinal study of 300 young people in a bid to work out why many New Zealanders struggle with their personal finances.

The participants - aged between 18 and 20 years - will be initially surveyed on their financial literacy and experience of financial education.

They will be surveyed again each five years for two decades in an effort to understand the different needs for financial knowledge at a range of life stages and where people get the information needed to make money decisions.

The university's centre for personal financial education, set up with Westpac Bank, will separately try to improve knowledge, attitudes and behaviour toward money by launching a certificate programme for personal finance educators.

The three-level certification will cover issues such as the time value of money, financial systems, risk assessment and management and the presentation and communication of financial information.

It will be delivered with a mix of face-to-face teaching and online learning.

Massey University vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said financial literacy was a new "currency" for the future security of the nation.

"We will be empowering New Zealanders to be more savvy when making financial decisions," he said.

The longitudinal study was the first project of its kind to benchmark knowledge, attitude and behaviour and represented a long-term commitment to improve financial literacy, Maharey said.

Finance Minister Bill English today launched the two initiatives in Wellington, and said improving the public's knowledge of personal financial issues would help contribute to a healthier economy based on more savings and less debt.

"Better financial literacy is not only good for the economy - it also helps individual New Zealanders make better decisions about their own personal finances," he said.

The centre is based at the university's Albany campus with the head of the school of economics and finance, Professor Martin Young, as its interim director.