Last week wrapped up Financial Literacy Month (FLM) 2021. Each April, financial education advocates promote this nationally recognized campaign to increase awareness of the need for financial education for youth and adults in grades K-12 and at colleges and in workplaces. Financial education is an essential skill that people need to fully participate in society and a recent meta-analysis of existing studies indicates it is both effective and cost-effective.
Hundreds of FLM events (podcasts, webinars, virtual conferences) were held nationally last month and I participated virtually in about a dozen of them. Below are eight take-aways from the FLM events that I attended:
¨ Financial Independence is Powerful- Financial education can be life changing. It can empower people to save and invest to ultimately achieve financial independence . When people are financially independent, the world is a better place. They don’t live an accident or illness or paycheck away from financial ruin. Financial education also provides people with hope for a better future and a path forward to achieve their personal goals.
¨ Budgeting is Key- While there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing money, everyone needs some type of budget, whether it is hand-written or prepared using a computer or app. Budgeting is especially important as a result of COVID-19 as income and expenses might have changed. For example, many people have been spending less on gas due to reduced commuting and more on utilities by working/schooling at home.
¨ Financial Education is Foundational- High-quality programs teach foundational knowledge and practical applications. Financial education is not a panacea, but it is a key resource to draw upon throughout life. Financial columnist Beverly Herzog noted that financial literacy is “like reading a map so you know how to get somewhere. If you know your destination, looking at a map (OK, Waze) helps you avoid making wrong turns.”
¨ Trust is the Key to Success- Financial educators need to show their target audiences that they care about them and listen to their stories. Other keys to success are candor, simple language, transparency, and very granular “how to” information with a series of process steps. People also need to know that “all hope is not lost” with respect to their finances. For example, any small amount of savings is better than not starting to save at all.
¨ FinTech is Complimentary- Financial technology (fin tech) is a compliment for financial education programs-not a substitute. People still crave personalized financial information and a human being to ask questions to. Lack of financial expertise is consequential and accounts for about a third of wealth inequality according to research. Both financial education and fin tech can help people make better life decisions.
¨ There are Many Positive Impacts- Participants in a recent #creditchat (Twitter chat) noted the following results from increased financial literacy: financial success and independence, better life choices, awareness of tools and resources for decision-making, closing wealth gaps between demographic groups, opening people’s eyes to alternative ways to manage money than what they have experienced so far, and a better future.
¨ There are Significant Obstacles- Access is a big issue. According to research by Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), only 1 in 9 high school students receive financial education and even less in schools with a “majority minority” student population. Other obstacles include school budgets, lack of state personal finance course requirements, and language barriers. Fortunately, free curricula and teacher professional development are addressing some of these issues.
¨ Doing Nothing Has Significant Costs- Negative impacts from lack of financial expertise include forgone savings and investment opportunities, high-cost debt, higher prices than necessary paid for goods and services, and dashed expectations. That said, financial education is not a panacea and it is sometimes “oversold.” It cannot fix structural and historical barriers to financial success that prevent consumers from making good choices. For that, policymakers and financial institutions must create better choices for people to make.
CNBC senior personal finance correspondent Sharon Epperson noted on a NGPF podcast that there has been an increase in students saying “we want financial education.” They are vocal, well-spoken, organized, and want to be financially secure. We owe it to all American youth to prepare them for a financially successful future. Every child needs a chance and financial education can help level the playing field, especially in underserved communities.