April 04, 2007

FINANCIAL LITERACY

By Senator Mike Crapo

In 2005, the average personal savings rate of Americans dropped into negative numbers, to minus .5 percent; in 2006, that doubled to minus 1 percent. The last time that the national savings rate was negative was during 1932 and 1933â??the Great Depression. These and other statistics indicate disturbing trends in the personal financial literacy of Americans:â?¢ 14.5: Percentage of disposable personal income that went to paying interest on personal debt in the second quarter of 2006--setting a record;â?¢ 52.4 %: Average test score of 5,700 high school seniors in 37 states on an exam evaluating knowledge of personal finance basics in 2005-2006;â?¢ $12.8 trillion: Household debt in the United States in 2006;â?¢ 42: In 2006, percentage of workers or spouses who calculated the amount needed to save for retirement (down from 53 percent in 2000).â?¢ Idaho per capita income is in the bottom third of the U.S., while Idaho consumer debt is in top third of the US. These numbers represent a rather unstable financial foundation for many families and individuals. With ever-increasing threats of telephone and Internet fraud and outright electronic credit card theft, it's more than a little frightening. In Idaho, there is no lack of financial literacy education, but there is a lack of general knowledge about how to obtain these services. Our state has strong financial and education institutions that have taken up the challenge of educating people of all ages about financial literacy. Congress has declared April "Financial Literacy Month," providing a great opportunity to talk about these resources. The 26-member Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition brings together expertise and resources from the public, private and non-profit financial sectors. Examples of services include: - The Idaho Department of Finance provides speakers to schools and organizations on personal financial education and conducts financial education seminars;- Wells Fargo Bank offers financial literacy education services through its Hands On Banking program and other outreach efforts. - The Idaho Credit Union League partners with the National Endowment for Financial Education to offer financial literacy curriculum to high schools. - In 2000, the Idaho State Board of Education adopted achievement standards including financial literacy classes in high school as part of the social studies graduation requirement.- National Financial Education Center at Debt Reduction Services offers free one-hour money management classes in the Treasure Valley, Pocatello, Spokane and Idaho Falls, serving 7,000 Idahoans annually. - Saturday, April 14, the Coalition will host a free comprehensive financial education event in Boise with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden presenting the keynote speech. In addition, the Idaho Bankers Association meets routinely to set up community outreach on financial literacy issues. The economy is growing at a steady pace, remaining strong in the face of some recent market challenges. A positive economic outlook is the perfect time to allocate personal resources for the future. Financial literacy helps us make wise financial choices.Maneuvering through the maze of finances is easier with experts on your side. Contact the Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition at www.idahoflc.org. You can also go to my website, http://crapo.senate.gov for more information on the subject of financial literacy.