Should schools teach kids personal finance?

SUMMERTIME and the living is easy, except I can’t stop my mind from jumping to next month when the college bills begin rolling in again.

With two sons heading back to university, my wife wanted to teach them fiscal responsibility. “I’m thinking of transferring $5,000 each (from their college savings accounts) into their checking accounts so they can pay their housing bills when they come due and buy books,” she said.

I laughed nervously. “You think they will be responsible and not blow it on other stuff?”
“Yes, they’ve been real good and they’re smart.”

No offense, but isn’t the 18-29-year- old generation fiscally challenged? They are the ones who don’t know the difference between compound interest and compound adjectives.

“You’re right,” I answered, after regaining my breath. “It would teach them how to handle their own finances.” It’s time for them to punch in the numbers on the electronic transfers and see the costs get deducted from their bank accounts. Plus, they would have to justify asking for more money.

Sensing my blood pressure was up, I put finances out of my mind and picked up the latest copy of Newsweek. I was transfixed by the article “School Credit” that discusses financial literacy in young people. In the bill President Obama says will bring back integrity to Wall Street (yeah, right!) there is a section warning the elderly and those with language barriers to watch out for dangerous mortgages. Newsweek’s Angela Wu adds: What about young people? Of those unemployed between the ages of 18 and 29, more than 25 percent are late on mortgage payments. Another study found this age group has “soaring credit-card debt” and bankruptcy rates.

Some conclude the Millenials never learned practical financial lessons. They were too busy solving complicated equations in calculus to be bothered with personal finance. Since 2007, the year the big recession hit, the number of states requiring high- schoolers take a financial literacy course to graduate doubled to 13, Newsweek reported. The Missouri education code includes the language: (each student must complete a) “new requirement for a half-unit course (one semester) in Personal Finance …”

California doesn’t require any such course. At best, the state education code suggests the topic be covered in economics or other classes.

Heidi Gallegos, board member with Rowland Unified, said she’d like to see such an elective for 11th graders. “Think about how that could change this state,” she said.
Parents who hope their children will buy a home someday should be worried. Most don’t understand the difference between interest rates and APR, points and fees. But before tackling mortgages, they should know how to handle credit. For example, do you roll over a balance or pay it off? Do they know that paying only the minimum payment often means they’ll never reach zero balance?

Either young people don’t know about finances or don’t want to know. And judging by the number of subprime meltdowns, few cared to know what they were signing, either.
I knew a young person who was finishing her college education debt- free. But she wanted to reward herself, so she bought a new car using her credit card. That quickly led to other credit purchases. When it came time to get married and her fiance learned of her debt ratio, he was gone faster than you could say “don’t leave home without it.” Her essay detailing her financial troubles and heartbreak should be required reading for every young person.

Kids should learn about personal finance. Fifty-one percent of those parents surveyed in June by Merrill Lynch said the most important life-lesson they want to pass on to their kids is “financial know-how,” second only to keeping family ties.

Joanne Steinmeier, veteran Arcadia Unified School District board member, raised her son to be responsible with credit. She says those lessons were first learned by her from her father. “I remember him bringing me to the savings and loan with my piggy bank full of coins … that was my first deposit into my savings account.”

She implores parents to teach their kids checkbook balancing and responsible purchasing: “Yes, kids have to understand this. But if it is taught at home, it is so much more valuable.”

Steve Scauzillo is opinion page editor.

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About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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