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  1. Opinion

Column: Financial literacy course can pay off for young adults

In a few weeks, a new crop of high school graduates will head out into the world. Many will quickly face decisions with potentially long-lasting impacts, such as paying for college and taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.

Can we really say our 18-year-olds really prepared to make those choices?

Florida legislators have taken a step in the right direction by passing House Bill 7071, which gives high school students the opportunity to take an elective course in personal finance. A required course would've been better, but this bill, which also promotes apprenticeships and career readiness, at least gives students an opportunity starting in the 2019-2020 school year.

Under the bill, which awaits the governor's signature, all Florida districts must offer a financial literacy course of at least a half credit as an elective, and all high school students will be required to take eight electives to graduate. A financial course like this could really change lives.

I'm not talking about a deep dive into wealth management or investing, which tends to come to mind when we discuss finance. We need to teach our young adults the basics of using money in everyday life: how to budget so the rent gets paid, why compound interest provides a unique opportunity while you're young, and how to pay with a credit card without falling into debt.

A lack of financial literacy contributes to lower incomes, less savings and failure to budget for many Americans, according to data published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2017. It showed, among other things, that people who didn't discuss personal finance growing up were 12 percent more likely to consider themselves "just getting by financially."

A survey published in April by the Penny Hoarder found that one-third of respondents did not discuss basic personal finance topics while growing up, and only 13 percent talked about their own family's financial situation.

It also found that 23 percent of respondents have no savings, 40 percent have less than $1,000 in savings, and 40 percent don't keep a budget — and one driving factor is a lack of financial literacy in the United States.

Teaching young adults to feel comfortable managing their money is one of the best ways to set them up for success. And financial literacy doesn't just benefit individuals, it's good for our economy, too. If Floridians are good shepherds of their money, they're more likely to stay out of consumer debt, which means they'll have more money to spend over time on things other than interest.

This is even more important now that student loan debt has become so prevalent. New research from Fed economists shows that student debt negatively affects the economy. Graduates who understand how their loans work are better prepared to pay them down faster.

A class on everyday finance certainly would've helped me. After graduating from high school here in Florida, I racked up $50,000 in debt in my early 20s, including $20,000 on credit cards. I was embarrassed, and I didn't feel comfortable talking to anyone about it. So I started an anonymous blog to document my efforts to get out of debt.

Eventually I exposed my identity and scaled that personal blog into a media company that focuses on finance. At the Penny Hoarder, we hear every day from readers who are desperate for help with money management — basics like budgeting, paying down debt and improving their credit score — to support their families.

Their stories are both inspiring and heartbreaking, and they show just how much we need personal finance education.

I encourage all Florida high school students to take the elective personal finance course. It will make a difference.

Kyle Taylor is CEO at the Penny Hoarder.

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