Washington The numbers are startling. More than half of high school seniors have debit cards and nearly one-third have credit cards.
One-third of college students have four credits cards apiece when they graduate, and more than half of graduates have piled up $5,000 each in high-interest debt. The number of 18- to 24-year-olds who have declared bankruptcy has increased 96 percent in 10 years.
Surveys show that many of these young people also are financially illiterate: They don’t understand such things as interest, minimum payments, credit reports, identity theft or that they may be paying off their school loans for years.
The problem isn’t just with the young, however. One in five Americans thinks that the most practical way to become rich is to win the lottery.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., remembers that her kids started receiving credit card applications when they were 16. She said that she repeatedly heard from people, young and old, who wished they knew more about financial matters.
Murray will introduce legislation this week that would authorize $1.2 billion in grants over five years to promote financial-literacy education beginning in grade school and stretching into adulthood.
“It’s a perfect time to be doing this,” Murray said.
Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, agrees.
“In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace,” he said nearly a year ago.
Over the past five years, 17 states added personal finance requirements to their curricula. Last year, former President George W. Bush appointed an Advisory Council on Financial Literacy to work with the private and public sectors to promote financial education. The council is part of the Treasury Department. Its members range from the chairman of Charles Schwab to the leader of Junior Achievement USA.
Murray’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., would provide grants to state education agencies that agreed to establish financial literacy standards and assess how well students were doing in elementary, middle and high school. Nonprofit organizations also would be eligible for grants. In addition, grants would be available to community and four-year colleges to offer financial literacy classes for their students and for older adults.
In addition to financial literacy classes offered by school districts, Junior Achievement operates programs in many districts. About 4.5 million young people participate in Junior Achievement programs nationwide.