Teaching students financial literacy

By Russ Van Arsdale Executive Director Northeast Contact, Special to the BDN
Posted Oct. 24, 2010, at 10:30 p.m.

It is illegal to duel with water pistols in Massachusetts.

As far as we know, this is not a huge problem in the Bay State. It is one of the tidbits found on a website on consumer education for young people.

The website, www.careprogram.us, was set up to promote a campaign for youth financial literacy. The campaign was started by Federal Bankruptcy Judge John C. Ninfo II. He founded Credit Abuse Resistance Education, or CARE, which has become known as the “scared straight” version of youth consumer information.

When he researched the topic, Judge Ninfo found 45 percent of college students carried credit card debt averaging more than $3,000. One-fifth of all college graduates have $20,000 or more in noneducation related debt when they leave college. That was in 2002.

As the CARE program went national, the judge wrote about “our national epidemic of financial illiteracy.” The program sends judges, attorneys, trustees and other court officials into schools to share their expertise with young people. The real-world lessons show students the importance of keeping their spending in line and staying out of debt.

This shock treatment approach might be most effective for young people on their way down a self-destructive road of debt. For those who haven’t begun the journey, there are some ways to get information about financial literacy into their hands.

Perhaps the most far-ranging effort is offered by the Council for Economic Education, which receives support from a range of companies, individuals and government agencies. Among the council’s findings in a survey last December:

• Maine is one of 49 states that require economics to be included in standards and that those standards be implemented.

• Maine is not one of the 13 states requiring students to take a personal finance course.

• Maine is not among the 19 states requiring entrepreneurship to be part of the kindergarten through 12th-grade curriculum.

• Testing to show financial literacy is not required in Maine.

The council notes some progress on improving students’ financial literacy but suggests a lot more needs to be done. It offers curriculum materials (some are free, some not) for all grade levels, plus teacher training. It also assists teachers in countries making the transition to market economies.

Other financial literacy offerings come from FoolProof Financial Education Systems (www.foolproofteacher.com). FoolProof is sponsored by credit unions, including the Maine Credit Union League, and the programs are free to consumers, whether or not they’re credit union members. FoolProof officials tell credit unions its job is to advocate for their members, not to push particular programs or products.

For that reason, FoolProof is strongly against ad campaigns that tout credit cards and credit card debt. The group’s advice to all consumers is to pay off credit card debt every month. FoolProof also opposes mandatory binding arbitration, which is required in many credit card agreements.

Please visit our blog (http://necontact.wordpress.com) and click the “Student Resources” tab. You’ll find links to information that will ease the process of learning about being a smart consumer.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/10/24/business/teaching-students-financial-literacy/ printed on August 21, 2014