Many thanks to our guest author, Kevin Ruth, the Founder of Give-Get, an app that helps teach budgeting, saving, investing, owning, borrowing, and speculating to high school students.
Is There A Financial Education Crisis In America?
The U.S. is the world’s largest economy. However, The Standard & Poor’s Global Financial Literacy Survey ranks us 14th when measuring the proportion of adults in the country who are financially educated.1 FINRA’s study of financial capability in the U.S. found that this isn’t getting better; in fact, it’s actually getting worse. We’re seeing a downward trend in financial education: Only 37 percent of individuals correctly answered four out of five financial questions, down from 42 percent in 2009.1
This comes at a time when many Americans are experiencing financial distress. Credit card and student loan debt continue to rise – something that’s only gotten worse since the pandemic.2, 3 And, of those 55 and older, 48 percent have nothing put away for retirement.4 Roughly half of Americans say they would need to borrow to cover a $400 emergency.5 That means they do not have even $400 in the bank.
The bottom line is that study after study, as well as experts representing several disciplines and a cross-section of political views, all agree that Americans are woefully uninformed about the basics of personal finance and unprepared to face the challenges of the future.
What Are States And Schools Doing About It?
Financial education is the ability to understand and apply basic financial concepts, like budgeting, saving, investing, and borrowing. The word “basic” is the key. They need to know answers to questions like:
- How do I create a budget?
- How much should I have in emergency savings?
- When should I use debt and how should I manage it?
- What is the financial impact of borrowing for a home or car?
- How do I reduce spending?
- How should I invest my money?
- I don’t have any money, so why would I need to learn about money and investments?
As of 2019, only 17 states require a personal finance course as a condition for graduating from high school, up from 13 in 2011.1 Most schools teach financial education as one portion of another course of study, such as math, economics, or social studies. Only five states require a semester-long, stand-alone personal finance course.1
Study after study shows that financial education courses don’t change behavior.5 Just giving people information does not, by itself, change how they act. Most children, when they leave class, don’t have to make consequential financial decisions, so the knowledge they learned is quickly forgotten.
What Can We, The Financial Advisor Community, Do To Help?
As an industry, we have the talent and resources to fill the gap left by the states and the schools. We can tackle this issue. We already understand the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, and borrowing. We don’t need any additional training – we can start immediately.
But, how can we use our knowledge and skills to serve a greater purpose by contributing to society through financial education? To start, there are 37 million high schools in 13,000 school districts in the United States. There are over 600,000 Registered Representatives and over 80,000 Certified Financial Planners in the U.S. We are a potential army of financial education champions.
What if each one of us adopted a high school or school district and made it our mission to teach and spread financial education? The benefits would potentially be great for both local communities and advisors themselves. Think about the advisor who is viewed as the local high school and community financial education champion. Don’t you think they would have higher retention rates and better client satisfaction? And how do you think they would be perceived by their community?
I believe it’s extremely important to teach children about money. So much so, that in early 2019, I left my senior executive role at Fidelity Investments to focus full time on my passion – financial education for young adults. I want to see a world where Americans have the skills to achieve financial freedom, where financially educated young adults possess the tools to become financially self-sufficient and financially stable, enabling them to live the lives they desire for themselves and their families.
I’ve created a financial education program for high school students that utilizes an app to teach budgeting, saving, investing, and borrowing. Through the program, high school students play a financial literacy game against other students in a national competition to earn scholarship money.
But, what young people need is greater support from a variety of resources. This year, I hope more advisors rise to the opportunity to make financial education a key component of their business models, supporting their communities to promote better understanding of basic financial concepts that will likely have a great impact over time. Will you answer the call?
- Greg Iacurci, “Financial literacy: An epic fail in America,” InvestmentNews.com, last modified March 2, 2019, https://www.investmentnews.com/financial-literacy-an-epic-fail-in-america-78385.
- Elizabeth Gravier, “Student loan debt has grown double since the pandemic to record-high levels – here’s what to know,” CNBC.com, last modified on March 9, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/select/experian-state-of-student-loan-debt-covid-19/.
- Jessica Dickler, “51 million Americans increased their credit card debt because of Covid,” CNBC.com, last modified on January 27, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/27/millions-of-americans-boosted-their-credit-card-debt-because-of-covid.html#:~:text=During%20the%20coronavirus%20crisis%2C%20more,the%20pandemic%2C%20the%20report%20found.
- Ben Steverman, “Half of Older Americans Have Nothing in Retirement Savings,” Bloomberg.com, Last modified on March 27, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-26/almost-half-of-older-americans-have-zero-in-retirement-savings.
- Timothy Ogden, “More states are forcing students to study personal finance. It’s a waste of time.,” WashingtonPost.com, last modified on April 23, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/04/23/more-states-are-forcing-students-study-personal-finance-its-waste-time/.
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Kevin J. Ruth, Founder, Give-Get
In early 2019, Kevin left his senior executive role at Fidelity Investments to focus full time on his passion – financial literacy for young adults. Over the course of his 25+-year career, Kevin noticed, time and time again, that the majority of the clients he served did not possess the basic financial understanding necessary to make informed decisions, so he decided to do something about it. He created a financial literacy program for high school students. Students play a financial literacy game against other students in a national competition to earn scholarship money. The Give-Get app is used to teach budgeting, saving, investing, owning, borrowing, and speculating.