It’s time for us to take a good look at what we’re teaching young Americans about personal finances. In fact, you don’t even have to look very hard because the answer is…almost nothing. Schools are teaching kids the meaning of Islam, the biased Ferguson saga, and other prejudicial crap, but they aren’t teaching them anything about how to use a credit card. And this lack of education has had an all-too predictable effect in the real world.
According to a new survey from Credit Karma, 68% of Americans have messed up their credit report by the time they reach the age of 30. Overspending, late payments, missed payments, and loan defaults are a few of the common ways Americans are getting nicked in their first years of independence.
“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is how a missed payment can stay on your credit,” Credit Karma’s Bethy Hardeman said. “It can be one mistake that you don’t think is a big deal that can cost you thousands in the long run.”
But what else would possibly happen in a country where we send young people off into the world with a fresh credit card in their wallets and no guidance on how to use it? It’s easy to look back as a 40-year-old and scoff at the financial folly of young people; when you’re broke, ignorant, and you have a card with “free money” on it, though, the situation is a little different. That’s not to remove personal responsibility from the picture, but it demonstrates a striking need for more education.
“These early mistakes can have a lingering impact on the quality of people’s lives, and we feel that with better, targeted education and learning tools for new-to-credit consumers, this cycle can be broken,” Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma’s founder and CEO, said.
Credit Karma is probably just promoting their own programs with a statement like that, but we could do with some education that starts well before young adults get their first credit card. Financial responsibility should be a part of our high school education system. Why would we go to such lengths to make sure kids are learning history and advanced math while ignoring these practical skills that mean so much more in the real world?
You could probably get conspiratorial about this – who benefits more from customer ignorance than the credit card companies themselves? – but it’s not necessary. We’re simply too slow to adjust our education system to the realities of the age. High school should be about more than preparing kids for college. Many of them will never go. All of them, however, can benefit from practical, sensible skills on credit, budgeting, and financial responsibility. Our country will be the better for it.