Economic Perspectives with Hopeton Hay on KAZI 88.7 FM in Austin, TX

Needed for America: A New Commitment to National Financial Literacy

Posted by Hopeton on May 24, 2009

Enclosed is an excerpt from testimony given on May 13, 2009 by Susan Keating, president and CEO of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity calling for increased congressional support of financial literacy.

…Today, we are focused largely on damage control. But looking beyond the current crisis, the NFCC feels strongly that we need to do a better job of preventing personal financial problems through financial literacy programs that provide consumers with basic money management skills and the financial know-how to take charge of their personal finances and use credit responsibly. While good money management cannot offset the impact of external events such as losing a job or a costly health problem, it can help consumers to better weather economic ups and downs and enable them to avoid the types of financial mistakes that lead to mortgage defaults, bankruptcy, and general problems with credit. Better outcomes for individuals and families will collectively add strength to our national economy. 

Susan Keating

Susan Keating

A recent Wall Street Journal article speculated that people tend to think they understand money because they’ve been handling it since grade school. “More likely,” the Journal added, “they have a basic understanding of spending, which is why so many households are in such dire straits these days.”

 Whatever the reason, it is clear to us, from both our counseling experience and the NFCC’s Financial Literacy Survey, that too many Americans lack the financial skills they need and too few are stepping forward to get help. 

For example, our recent Financial Literacy Survey found that 41 percent of Americans grade themselves as a C, D, or F on personal financial knowledge; only 42 percent keep close track of their spending; and more than quarter say they do not pay their bills on time. As noted earlier, 28 percent of mortgage holders admit that their mortgages have turned out to be different than expected when they took out the loan. Numbers like these scream of the need for better financial education.

Toward that end, the NFCC believes that basic finance and money management should become a mandatory part of the standard school curricula in every state. Surveys show that financially literate consumers are more likely to make their loan payments on time and less likely to default. That should be a powerful incentive to everyone, especially creditors, to promote financial education. At a time when lenders are trying to reduce their risk, it is a good time for them to promote proven risk-reduction strategies such as financial education by offering incentives such as better credit terms to consumers who have completed such programs. Consumers, too, would certainly avoid problems if they took part in financial education before their finances deteriorated.

A number of organizations, including the NFCC, have been working on financial literacy for some time. Collectively, we’ve developed effective and relevant course materials and other education tools. What we don’t have is a true national strategy or a national delivery system. If we are serious about financial education, we need to provide consumers as well as lenders and other third-parties involved with incentives to attend classes, secure funding to support education services, and also find a way to measure results so we know what works and what doesn’t.

We are further convinced that the federal government can and must provide leadership in this area. Both Congress and the President support legislation to extend consumer protection by requiring new disclosure requirements for credit cards and restricting some practices that have made it easier for consumers to accumulate excessive debt and harder to pay it back. But no legislation can do more for consumers than they are willing to do for themselves. That is why we feel so strongly about financial education. Ultimately, financial education IS consumer protection, and it must be a priority.

To read the entire tesimony click here.

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