Financial literacy must improve

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, August 4, 2009

We are rapidly becoming a nation with little knowledge or understanding of basic economics and finance, with a national lack of knowledge in personal transactions as well as little understanding of the national arena. At the individual level, Americans are facing a financial crisis, and most of it is because of an inadequate understanding of the fundamentals of finance and economics.

Look at our appetite for consumer debt. This has reached the point where consumer debt service now accounts for almost 14 cents out of every dollar of take-home income.

Credit cards comprise a large portion of consumer debt. The average credit card debt at the beginning of this year was $8,329 per household. Unfortunately, most are paying average interest rates of more than 13 percent.

Everyone should have adequate financial knowledge to create budgets, establish savings plans, and make decisions for retirement or for the education of children. Sadly, this isn’t the case.

Results of national tests that measure the understanding of basic economic concepts underscore America’s collective deficiency of knowledge. The tests are given periodically to representative samples of the public, high school seniors, and college seniors.

Members of the public and the high school seniors typically answer less than half of the questions correctly. And college seniors answer, on average, less than 60 percent correctly.

We must do a better job of instilling in future generations the essential principles of the American economic system.

To do this, we must start exposing them to basic economics and finance at a young age, hopefully at the elementary and middle school levels, but not later than the first years of high school.

We must undertake this effort in the national interest.

By doing this, we will have given birth to a legion of citizens who have the knowledge, understanding, and skills to make crucial decisions in the challenging decades that lie ahead.