I sat down to write a blog about the importance of teaching financial literacy to young adults, and found I had the same paranoia as many educators faced with this task. To put it simply, I am afraid of the topic. Financial literacy sounds math-related to me, and when I hear “math,” I head for the exit. To be honest, I have never bounced a check, overdrawn an account, or gotten myself into a state of financial crisis, but that doesn’t mean I understand anything about interest rates, the intricacies of loan repayment, debt, or retirement savings. In short, I’m like most American adults…blissfully ignorant.
According to Annamaria Lusardi, a George Washington University School of Business professor writing for The Wall Street Journal, I am much like my peers. By age 40, only 1 in 3 adults has mastered the concepts of financial literacy, long after we make a lifetime worth of financial decisions. Looking at today’s young adults she says, “Multiple studies confirm that students have little understanding of how student loans work,” and more than half of millennials never attempt to figure out what their payments will be. This is frightening.
Personally, I worry that credit card companies reach out daily to young adults who fail to compare credit cards before applying, or fail to understand how finance charges accumulate on revolving credit. I grimace as I watch my own son pay the minimum on his card each month, never bothering to figure out how much he’s actually paying for the items he is buying on credit and not paying off immediately.
Lusardi goes on to explain that the issue is far more than debt. “These young people will have to support long retirements on savings and investments managed thoughout their careers. To accomplish that feat, they will depend on interest compounding—a basic concept that they don’t fully understand.” She is also concerned with young adults’ lack of understanding of risk diversification and inflation, as these concepts are, in her words, “the benchmarks by which we measure financial literacy.” She is a vocal advocate for financial literacy education as a mandatory college course.
I cannot argue with her premise, based on my own lack of knowledge, however, at PSW, we strongly believe that college is too late to impart this knowledge. Students have already taken out education loans or saddled themselves with credit card debt they will have difficulty repaying. The time to educate young people is middle and high school, before they make poor decisions that will affect their future, and ours. Saddled with debt, how will millennials purchase cars or homes or save for their retirement? Lusardi says, “The Great Recession was driven by mortgages and loan terms consumers didn’t understand. The entire nation went into an economic tailspin as a result of that lack of understanding.”
Here’s a quick six-question quiz that forms the basis of the National Financial Capability Study. Take the quiz and see how you do. How would the young adults in your life fare on this quiz? Pass it along, then join us in supporting financial literacy education as part of the curriculum for middle and high school students.