Financial Planning

Should we force Americans to be financially literate?

Pig We're getting some conflicting signals on the financial literacy front these days.

One one hand, we're seeing more and more evidence that Americans are spending less and saving more in these lean economic times. And that's a good thing. Consider this passage from a recent Associated Press article:

"The personal savings rate has risen to more than 4 percent after sinking to near zero in the months before last fall's meltdown. The number of people getting financial counseling is 3.2 million, double the amount two years ago.

"In ways big and small — from scrutinizing their bills and joining credit unions to scaling back weddings and college plans — people are finding creative ways to deal with the worst recession in a generation. In short, there's a quiet revolution taking place in the way people save, borrow and spend that represents a retreat from old habits, and the first steps toward new ones."

Really? Because we're also hearing some disturbing news that suggests just the opposite. The 2009 National Consumer Survey on Personal Finance found that nearly two-thirds of Americans do not have a written financial plan.

“Those in the know who are using financial planning are finding it a valuable experience,” Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the CFP Board, said in this WebCPA article. “There are just too many people who are not using it.”

With that in mind, some impending action by Maryland's General Assembly seems like brilliant timing. According to The Baltimore Sun's Jay Hancock, state lawmakers are toying with the idea of requiring students to learn a thing or two about personal finance in high school.

"State officials are about to reveal proposals for personal-finance instruction that could be in the classroom by next fall," writes Hancock. "While the material will probably be offered as optional, the General Assembly should go a step further and require it for all public high schools."

And not a moment too soon. This stuff is no longer optional. It's as important as any other life skill that students learn in school.

What do you think? Should we force students to learn more about personal finance?


Bill Sheridan