With graduation around the corner, high school seniors and their parents are focused on their school’s graduation requirements. But what about their personal finance education requirements? Are financial skills included in a student’s formal education? Not usually. What financial concepts should graduating seniors know before they walk down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance?
According to the Council for Economic Education’s Annual Survey of the States, only 17 states require that high school students take a course in personal finance and that number has remained unchanged since 2014. Moreover, the National Endowment for Financial Education surveyed more than 1,200 K-12 teachers in 2009 and found that “while 89% of K-12 teachers agree that students should either take a financial education course or pass a competency test for high school graduation, only roughly 20% of the teachers believed that they are adequately prepared to teach personal finance.” With not much personal financial education being presented in school, it is not surprising to see that a 2015 Junior Achievement and All-State survey found that a whopping 84% of surveyed teens look to their parents to learn money management. But, unfortunately, that same survey pointed out that many parents may feel uncomfortable talking about money matters with their kids, due to their lack of knowledge or their own financial missteps.
We all know that strong personal finance skills are a critical component to an individual’s success. So it’s important that we check in with our teens, evaluate their financial knowledge, and pick up the slack where needed. To help you prepare your teens for the real world, below are the top five financial topics that teens should understand by high school graduation.
1. Budgeting: Before their graduation, teens must know how to create a budget. They should understand the differences between income, expenses, and savings, and the concept that expenses should not exceed income otherwise; they could accumulate debt and incur costly interest.
2. Credit Cards: 21 is the minimum age requirement for credit card applications. If the credit card mailers addressed to your teenager haven’t started to inundate your mailbox, just wait. Teens need to know about credit cards, how they work, the in’s and out’s of interest rates, payment periods and amounts, the weight of credit card debt, and how credit card debt and interest expense can quickly accumulate. Credit card companies have been known to prey on naïve college kids with stunts like setting up tables on campus and offering free T-shirts and sandwiches if they sign up for a card. That T-shirt doesn’t seem so free when you realize it comes with a terribly high interest rate and the potential for thousands of dollars of debt! Make sure you’re helping your children pick the right card for their situations, one that won’t drown them in debt that they’ll be paying off for the next 20 years!
3. Bank Accounts: Teens should know how a bank account works and the fees associated; not only the account fees and how they incur (min balance amounts, activity fees, etc.), but also the ATM fees. Credit Union of Denver has a great checking account with a high interest rate, up to 3.0% APY (Annual Percentage Yield) on balances up to $10,000 and receive up to $25 of ATM fees refunded monthly!
While check writing may someday be obsolete, don’t forget to show them how to write a check and explain how it works. Also, review how debit cards work, how to safeguard all their information, and how too many swipes at the checkout counter can lead to costly and sometimes embarrassing overdraft charges.
4. Savings: Teens must understand the importance of savings. Not only saving for a car, trips, and expensive purchases but also financial emergencies that may arise (repairs, healthcare, etc.). Even if you are paying all your child’s bills, they need to know how much things cost. And, if you have their ear and they are still listening, start a conversation about retirement. It’s never too early! A good starting point for this discussion is an explanation of the time value of money. Then, explain that retirement is the largest purchase a person will ever make, and the sooner you start putting money into retirement the closer you are to a secure future.
5. Credit Scores: It is important that teens understand the consequences they may face if they don’t keep their finances in good shape. Make sure that you discuss the impact of missed payments and large amounts of debt can have on a credit score.