Next year, high schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, will require students to take a personal finance course in order to graduate – hallelujah!

The course will replace one of the three required American history courses North Carolina students must currently take to graduate. The State Board of Education approved the change last week.

Mariah Morris, North Carolina’s Teach of the Year for 2019, told a local news station that students were “hungry” for the class.

“They want to know about credit and debit, taxes, what W-4 forms are, W-2, how to budget, how to get grants for college, what fraud is, 401(k)s, interest levels, how to get a mortgage, and how to do business forms,” Morris told WRAL.

This effort is worthy of applause, and it will pay dividends down the road.

By some twist of fate, I started working on the marketing side of the banking industry in 2016. Working with banks across the country, I know more than most about the dearth of even the most basic financial knowledge among the general populous.

Here are a few statistics that help paint the picture.

According to a 2019 WalletHub study, the average American household owes around $8,700 in credit card debt.

A 2018 study by the Federal Reserve found that 40 percent of Americans don’t know how they would pay for a $400 emergency.

One study by Northwestern Mutual found that 21 percent of Americans had no retirement savings at all and a third of all Americans had fewer than $5,000 in retirement savings.

Perhaps most sobering is this one: A 2019 study by CompareCards.com reported that seven out of 10 Americans have cried over their finances.

Yikes.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t taught much about money growing up aside from “be careful with credit cards,” “try to save some money,” and “don’t spend more than you make.” But like a lot folks, I learned how to handle money by failing forward. The same goes for managing the complicated bureaucracy of adulting – medical forms, tax forms, insurance forms, credit scores, and so on.

The financial moves you make in your early adult life set the stage for decades to come. These early decisions aren’t big ones, but they have a compounding effect when it comes to getting a loan, saving for retirement, and establishing good habits in general.

Despite their reputation for being entitled, today’s youth can surprise you with their ingenuity and industriousness. The rise of the gig economy should be all the proof you need. Everyone remembers the kid from middle school who made good selling snacks, burned CDs, rare Pokemon cards – whatever. They’re willing to work for it if they know how to use the tools available to them.

For kids living near the poverty line, access to financial education is as significant a lifeline as the ability to read. Life isn’t about money, but to have control over your life, you must have control of your finances. I struggle to imagine a greater service we could offer to our children than helping them achieve financial autonomy, especially here in the great broke state of Mississippi.

RILEY MANNING is a fiction writer, former religion reporter for the Daily Journal, and a copywriter at Mabus Agency. Readers can contact him at rileymanning19@gmail.com.

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