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By Senator Mike Crapo

Tax season tends to be a time when people think more often about their personal finances-savings, investments, income and expenditures. This year, turmoil in the economy and financial markets, job losses, uncertainty in the housing market and concern over proposed and significant changes in the tax code have caused people to re-assess allocations of personal expenditures, long-term savings and investments. Personal savings rates are rising again after years at historically-low levels, but this also comes at a time when the economy could benefit from greater flows of cash and capital. It is more important than ever that individuals and families understand and teach their children about finances and the importance of saving, investing and spending wisely. An educated approach to personal finances is the best way to boost our economy and improve the quality of life for our families.

Congress has again declared April 2009, as "Financial Literacy Month." As we contemplate ways to balance our incomes and expenditures, we should take advantage of resources available to help. One in four American adults has never checked his or her credit score, and nearly half of American adults do not know that credit reports can be accessed for free. Nearly ten million U.S. households do not have an account at a mainstream financial institution such as a bank or a credit union. Establishing such an account gives consumers access to less expensive and more secure options for managing finances and building wealth. Increased financial and economic literacy can help people navigate around the countless pitfalls that confront working families. In 2008, there were more than one million personal bankruptcy filings in the United States, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. This was the highest personal bankruptcy mark since bankruptcy laws were amended in 2005. Approximately 76 million adults say they do not have any nonretirement savings, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Recent surveys indicate that high school seniors score failing grades on tests determining knowledge of personal finance. Fortunately, Idaho is ahead of the game-it is one of a minority of states in which the public schools require a form of financial literacy for high school graduation.

Personal financial education helps prepare individuals to manage money, credit and debt. Responsible financial management is the key to becoming an effective investor, entrepreneur, business leader and citizen. It's also the key to consumer protection. When our personal financial house is in order, it gives us the freedom to enjoy our lives, our families and plan well for the future. If necessary, seek out financial counseling resources available through your financial institution or through community, state or federal resources. The Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition will be holding its third annual information session on Friday, April 10, at the Nampa Civic Center. The conference is free, and information will be presented on a variety of topics including investment, Social Security, savings, credit, home buying, debt elimination and retirement planning. The Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition (IFLC) includes over two dozen Idaho financial institutions, state agencies, consumer protection agencies, educational institutions, financial planners and accountants.

When our financial houses are in order, it can make difficult economic times easier to manage. For those with concerns, there is help available to put you back on the road to financial independence and security. For more information on the Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition and financial literacy in general, please visit:

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