Herald-Whig

Financial literacy training should start young, be thorough

Posted: Aug. 13, 2018 10:05 am

WHEN it comes to financial literacy, ignorance is not bliss.

The Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College issued a report late last year giving a failing grade to 11 states. Another four states received a grade of D.

Missouri was one of only 5 states to receive an A. Illinois was one of four states to get a B+. And they're among 20 states that require students to take classes in personal finance before they graduate from high school.

That's good, but the main takeaway from the national study was that children need to start learning about personal finance before high school. When children understand their finances, they have a much greater chance of avoiding debt, poverty and bankruptcy.

Stateline.org tells an instructive story about how Kentucky Treasurer Allison Ball and a colleague were talking with high school seniors last year about credit cards and other personal finance issues. Ball realized that something wasn't right.

"We kept using the word ‘interest' and we kept getting blank stares," Ball recalled. Finally, she asked the students who knew what interest is. No one did.

"Here they were, about to be adults, two weeks before graduation -- and they had no idea about interest on credit card payments," said Ball, a former bankruptcy attorney. "That's exactly how you get into trouble."

Kentucky's Legislature took action, and starting in 2020, its ninth-graders will be required to take financial literacy courses before graduation.

But top educators say anything that's important, or complicated, should be part of the elementary school curriculum. Financial literacy is both important and complicated.

This is not a problem with students who don't understand how to balance checkbooks, budget paychecks or save for the future. This is about preparing Americans for life.

Recent statistics tell how we're doing nationwide.

U.S. household debt rose to $1.32 trillion in the first quarter of 2018. It was the 15th consecutive quarterly increase, with debt rising higher than it was in the third quarter of 2008, during the recession and larger financial crisis.

One component of that mountain of debt involves a record $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

Among the states with best practices on financial class work, elementary school students are learning math lessons linked to some personal finance skills. They balance checkbook-style ledgers or deal with household budgets as they calculate the costs of housing, food, transportation and other expenses.

Parents also can help their children prepare for life outside the nest by doing a little home schooling on personal finances.

What we don't know, when it comes to financial literacy, can hurt us.