Magna Cum Lousy

Imagine: you give a teenager access to car keys when they have never driven a car or taken Driver’s Education.  You simply tell them to drive carefully and you hope for the best.

That would be setting them up for failure, and yet, we do this every day with personal finance.

The stakes might not be dying in a car crash, but racking up massive amounts of student loan debt before even starting a career may be a death of a certain kind, nonetheless.

According to The Student Loan Report, national student loan debt exceeds $1.4 trillion; the average debt per student borrower is $27,975.

GoBankingRates estimates 39% of Americans have $0 in savings. For those aged 25-34 the results are worse: 41% have $0 saved.

Exactly how are these young adults supposed to get ahead, buy a home, start a business, and live their lives with this burden on their backs straight out of the gate?

For all the advanced degrees swimming in this pool of debt – has no one been able to understand the power – and devastation – of compound interest?  Our system has failed; these students are not fluent in personal finance – and no matter what they earn or what they will become, their potential will be limited.

Instead, schools focus on standardized test taking; parents stress over how their kids score and what their rank is. Frankly, it is all meaningless if they can’t survive in the real world, which revolves around money.

If you have never learned how to drive a car, simply waiting an extra 10 years won’t make you skilled.  Money is like that, too.  There is no substitute for practice; developing good habits is key to minimizing debt and amassing savings/investments.

Growing older will not bestow someone with money wisdom; in fact, age without experience means more wasted time and more wasted money.

I have spoken with very accomplished adults with superior schooling and degrees far more impressive than my humble B.A. in English; I have had to tell them to take the $5,000 from their savings account (earning 0%) and pay off the credit card debt that is charging 19% in interest.  It would be the equivalent of earning 19%, risk-free.

This can all be avoided, of course, if we start educating children.

Kids love to learn about money.  I have stood before elementary school students who appear shy and bored at first and, in a matter of minutes, their eyes widen.  They understand that they are not too young for this lesson – they can even do the math.  They become energized and ask about setting up their own investment accounts.  I have seen imaginations take flight – thinking of all the ways they can earn some money and get practicing.

So what gives?  Why are there only 17 states that have a personal finance requirement to graduate high school and only 22 that require an economics class to graduate?  Even when there is a class requirement – one class in senior year does not a financial wizard make.

Have schools become so unimaginative and uninspired that they are sticking to the same-old, same-old way of doing things?

The price of financial illiteracy is steep.  Eventually, taxes get raised to help support those who cannot support themselves.  Products and services cost more when people default and don’t pay their bills.

This is stupid-simple to understand – fixing this problem could create more jobs, make a more robust society; and enable others to climb up to a new rung of social advancement. With success comes progress and innovation.  Families, employers, nonprofits, municipalities are just a few of the beneficiaries of a more financially responsible society.

So why isn’t financial literacy an issue worthy of attention in schools?

Why aren’t parents complaining about this – and demanding more for their children?

Why doesn’t the financial industry do more to avail themselves to this mission?

Tony and I have gone to many schools, to educate students, parents and even teachers – but we are just two people.  Unfortunately, some schools express interest and then fail to follow-through.

April is supposed to be “National Financial Literacy Month” –  but without any real and consistent support, this is just lip service (which never pays the bills).

Until financial literacy is not a novelty month – but a regular and rigorous part of the on-going curriculum – our schools, colleges and universities will continue turning out very bright, but financially ignorant graduates.

Sorry, but that just doesn’t seem very smart to me.

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