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SACRAMENTO BEE: Personal Finance: Financial Literacy Month deemed a success
May 06, 2012
Would we all have been better off during the recession if we'd been a bit more money-educated? Most likely, yes.
Or at least more confident about understanding things like good loans, bad mortgages, saving more and getting less into debt.
That's the belief of many personal finance experts who just finished up Financial Literacy Month, both here in California and nationwide.
And it's not just the pros. Everyday consumers are well aware that they need some financial prowess.
Some 42 percent of adults gave themselves harsh grades – a C, D or F – on their knowledge of personal finances, according to a recent online survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. That's a significant change from 2010, when only 35 percent graded themselves poorly.
"Many Americans are so overwhelmed with their financial situation that they are financially frozen, preventing them from reaching out for the help they need," said NFCC spokeswoman Gail Cunningham in an email. "Further complicating the problem is that personal finance is complex, and becoming more so every day. There is legitimate help available to consumers, but it's up to them to take advantage of it."
Help is definitely out there. During Financial Literacy Month in April, a number of schools, banks, nonprofits and government groups touted their financial literacy efforts. Here's a sampler:
• At Sacramento Charter High School in Oak Park, a class of juniors and seniors was the first to finish a new financial literacy class course offered by the state Department of Real Estate. Funded by the nonprofit NID-Housing Counseling Agency, which provides mortgage and home ownership counseling, the class covers such basics as renting a first apartment, figuring interest rates on loans and saving vs. borrowing to buy a car.
What prompted the Department of Real Estate to get involved?
"As we sifted through the rubble of the financial meltdown," said DRE spokesman Tom Pool, "we saw that many people who were taken advantage of could have benefited from education. If there was more education out there, some of the horror stories could have been avoided."
• What do comic books and financial literacy have in common? About 16 pages, in the new "Avengers: Saving the Day" comic book. Featuring bulked-up Marvel Comics characters Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man, it's aimed at helping kids "pinpoint your spending weak spots to smash through budgeting like a superhero."
Sponsored by Visa Inc., it joins other teen-focused tools, such as the NFL-themed "financial football" and U.S. soccer games on Visa's "Practical Money Skills for Life" website.
The free Avengers comic book is available in eight languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Portuguese and Russian. To get a copy: www.practicalmoneyskills. com/avengers.
• Adding to its "Bank It Teens" program, Capital One bank last week launched a free multimedia online tool for younger kids. Its new "Bank It Elementary" walks third- through sixth-graders through interactive lessons on saving, budgeting and managing money. It's at www.bankit.com.
• Money and hip-hop? Rocking the beat, dozens of teens nationwide created and competed for the best original song and lyrics in the "Money Matters Music Mogul (M4)" contest, sponsored by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Charles Schwab Foundation.
Each of the finalists won a $500 college scholarship. The ultimate winner, 16-year-old Syretha Shirley of Las Vegas, flew to Atlanta where her "Time Is Money" song was turned into a music video by hip-hop producer Kevin "Khao" Cates.
A sample of her hip-hop lyrics:
"I keep my money coming in, never running out. My money talk so know the language; I'm about my business, I ain't playing. What you see is not what you get; got to put in work to get the best. Do a little saving and invest. Think about your next move like you playing chess."
To see the contest's five finalists, go to: www.myclubmylife.com/Life_Skills/Pages/money-beats.
• The Council for Economic Education recently released its annual survey on high school instruction of economics and personal finances. While 22 states require an economics course as a graduation requirement (up from 21 in 2009), only 13 states mandate a personal finance course, the council said. For details: www.councilforeconed.org.
In California, at least one lawmaker, state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, is trying to change that. Lieu, who has unsuccessfully pushed a series of financial literacy bills the last several years, has another in the hopper, SB 1080, that would encourage personal finance to be taught in high school economics classes. It also would require the state to develop a personal finance curriculum during California's next cycle for math and history textbook revisions.
His bill is slated to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee later this month.
• Some California teachers who include personal finance recently got rewarded for their students' results in the National Financial Capability Challenge, an online test of teens' personal finance skills.
Economics teacher Chad Posner of Sacramento's Mira Loma High School had 45 of his 90 students score in the test's top 20 percent nationally. And at El Dorado High School in Placerville, five students of math instructor Marc Sarge also scored in the top 20 percent.
Sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department, the free exam covers earnings, savings, spending, budgeting and credit questions. Nationally, the 80,000 students who took it scored an average of 69 percent.
In California, the average score was 67 percent, two notches below the national average. Of those, 10 California students grabbed perfect scores, including one of Posner's students.
All of the top-performing students nationally will be entered in a lottery for 25 $1,000 scholarships provided by the U.S. Treasury.
Posner, who has offered the 50-minute online test for about five years, says he's "perplexed" that personal finance topics are not covered more broadly in California high schools.
"These are things many adults were never taught, like understanding a FICO (credit) score," Posner said. "If people don't understand basic financial concepts, they are more likely to buy financial products they don't really need … and are at greater risk of being a victim of investment scams."
For more on California's financial literacy efforts, see the state Financial Literacy Month website, www.caflm.ca.gov.
FINANCIAL SMARTS QUIZ
Here's a sample of questions from this year's National Financial Capability Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The free online exam was taken by more than 80,000 high schoolers nationwide. The average score: 69 percent
1. Sara works full-time at the Big Save store and earns $2,500 per month. Who pays the contributions to Social Security on the wages she earns?
A. Only Sara.
B. Only her employer.
C. Both Sara and her employer.
D. I don't know.
2. Carolina has $5,000 saved from working different jobs. She puts her money in a savings account paying 4 percent interest a year. How much will be in her account at the end of the first year and the second year?
A. First year: $5,100; second year: $5,400.
B. First year: $5,200; second year: $5,400.
C. First year: $5,200; second year: $5,408.
D. I don't know.
3. Marco went to the grocery store to buy cereal. The type he likes came in three different brands and three different sizes. To select the brand with the lowest unit cost, he should look at the:
A. Largest cereal box on the shelf.
B. Price per ounce of cereal in each box.
C. The most popular brand.
D. I don't know.
4. Which of the following best describes the relationship between interest rates charged for a loan and the borrower's risk of nonpayment?
A. Lower interest rates are charged on loans with a lower risk of nonpayment.
B. Higher interest rates are charged on loans with a lower risk of nonpayment.
C. Lower interest rates are charged on loans with a higher risk of nonpayment.
D. I don't know.
5. John drove his car to the local Gas and Shop store. On the way, he got distracted while talking to his friend and hit a street sign. Neither he nor his friend was hurt, but the car's front end was damaged. What type of automobile insurance coverage will provide reimbursement for damages to his car?
D. I don't know.
Answers: 1. C; 2. C; 3. B; 4. A; 5. B