Opinion

We teach teens trigonometry, why not Money 101?

Today's financial crisis is a prime example of why the next generation needs financial literacy.

Why does the school system require classes such as math, English, and science, but not basic personal finance?

We force students to learn trigonometry, yet how many of us ever use it again after graduation? In contrast, how many transactions involving money will we each conduct on a daily basis for the rest of our lives?

Think about each time you purchase something with a credit card, make a car payment, reconcile your bank account, or pay taxes. Even though these transactions are a daily occurrence for most consumers, we receive very little financial education on them from our school system, or even our parents.

Now think about how huge a decision it is to rent or purchase a home, apply for a loan or mortgage, make a contribution to your IRA or 401(k), shop for insurance, or get married. How do we expect to make wise financial decisions when we have little education on even the basics?

According to a 2007 survey commissioned by the National Council on Economic Education , only seven states currently require high school students to receive financial education in the school system. What about the other 43 states?

We need look no further than the daily news headlines about the mortgage meltdown, the stock market crisis, the housing slump, or the rising cost of oil to see how relevant financial literacy is.

Rather than waiting for the system to correct itself, we need to educate our future generations to make smarter financial decisions.

Just 20 years ago, personal finance was significantly less complex than it is today, and in many cases, parents supplemented what the schools did not teach.

Fast forward to present day, and we now have hundreds of different home mortgage options and the burden of retirement planning is shifting from the government and traditional company pension plans to consumers through investment vehicles such as IRAs and 401(k)s.

Because of their own financial woes, in many cases, parents are no longer comfortable with talking to their children about the touchy subject of money and personal finance.

Sadly, research shows that financial illiteracy has reached epidemic levels with no end in sight.

Much has been done to bring awareness to other growing crises such as childhood obesity, the need to wear sunscreen, and the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, but why has something as important as financial literacy been largely ignored?

Results from my recent online consumer survey, FinancialLiteracyQuiz.com , show that:

•Only 50 percent of those who took the survey know that property taxes and mortgage interest are tax deductible

•Only 40 percent know that their liability for credit-card fraud is limited to $50.

•Only 33 percent know what "annual percentage rate" (APR) means.

•Only 32 percent know what required deductions are taken from their paycheck.

So, why should Americans care? These are basic pieces of information that are critical to financial decisions. And the better job we do of financially educating the next generation, the more financially independent they will be. This will not only mean breaking free from ongoing support from parents or destructive financial habits, but it could potentially save a lot of money.

Our school system has an obligation to prepare students for success in a fast paced global economy. Personal finance is a subject that will affect all consumers for the rest of their lives, regardless of age, education level, or income.

Financial literacy is a fundamental life skill that needs to be properly taught in the school system, alongside traditional math, English, and science.

The public needs to put pressure on lawmakers to mandate this. Parents and students need to be vocal locally.

In the meantime, consumers need to accept personal responsibility and invest in themselves to get financially educated. They can start by reading a book, attending a seminar, or getting coaching from a trusted adviser. But they have to start now. The future of our financial lives depends on it.

Braun Mincher is the author of "The Secrets of Money: A Guide for Everyone on Practical Financial Literacy."

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