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article imageOp-Ed: 35% of U.S. in debt means high school must teach personal finance

By Calvin Wolf     Jul 29, 2014 in Business
With 35 percent of American adults in debt collection, hindering their credit scores, we need all 50 U.S. states to require personal finance, in addition to the usual economics, in the mandatory high school curricula.
Most people know that the United States has a debt problem. However, in addition to the high national debt, which is measured in the trillions of dollars, America also has an alarmingly high level of personal debt among its adults. According to ABC News, 35 percent of U.S. adults are in debt collection, which means their unpaid bills have been reported to a debt collection agency, potentially harming their credit scores. The average debt load is almost $5,200.
Many factors are to blame for our nation's personal debt woes. Culturally, we're shopaholics. Economically, our real wages are eroding and the job market is unstable. We're turning into a nation of overeducated part-timers and freelancers, our college degrees no longer landing us the full-time jobs they once guaranteed. The cost of living has skyrocketed: Real estate, college tuition, and medical care are now many times more expensive than just a few generations ago.
While our legislatures need to work on crafting commonsense policies to help improve the job market and lower the costs of real estate, college tuition, and health care, we need to help Americans better understand their own finances. As a high school economics teacher, it bothers me that there is no personal finance course offered in my district. In fact, most districts do not offer personal finance as a class, much less require it for graduation. All 50 U.S. states should require a one-semester personal finance course, on top of the usual one semester of economics, for high school graduation.
These days, with the proliferation of credit cards, people start generating credit scores at younger and younger ages. Teenagers with credit cards can start damaging their credit scores by not knowing how the system works. Many teens go straight from high school to college with little knowledge of personal finance. Away from home and suddenly handling more money than they have seen before, many college freshmen can make spending mistakes that begin to compound.
College freshmen may have a poor understanding of credit, credit versus debit, interest, credit scores, credit reporting, overdraft fees, and a slew of other financial terminology.
In the past, many states and school districts may have assumed that personal finance education should be left up to parents and guardians. In high school, I learned nothing about personal finance. Luckily, I was raised by a pair of accountants. Most teenagers are not so lucky. Given this debt crisis, it is clear that schools can no longer assume that we can leave the financial education of our youth to parents and guardians, many of whom may be poor financial role models.
Let our nation's skilled teachers help fix our debt crisis by teaching our teenagers the basics of budgeting, banking, and managing credit.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Debt, Credit card debt, Personal finance, debt collection, High school
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