Financial Literacy: A Cornerstone of Success
4/8/2014
By Rep. Mike Peifer (R-Monroe/Pike/Wayne)
CPA and PHEAA Board Member

When people talk about “literacy” they are usually referring to the ability to read. But there’s another, equally important, form of literacy we need to start talking about: financial literacy.

April is Financial Literacy Month in Pennsylvania, a time to focus on the importance of making informed decisions about our finances to help ensure we can meet various financial goals in our lives, such as moving out on our own, buying our own home, paying for higher education, supporting our family, traveling and being able to retire at a reasonable age.

Unless you win the lottery or just happen to receive a sizable inheritance, achieving these goals will not happen without some hard work and conscious planning on your part. As a certified public accountant myself, I have seen the impact of good financial decisions and the fallout from bad ones. That’s why I strongly support promoting financial literacy for people of all ages.

According to a recent study by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, just 28 percent of high school students in the Commonwealth take a course devoted to economics or personal finance. Of the state’s 500 school districts, just 38 of them (7.6 percent) require students to take a course in personal finance before graduation. This is an area in which we need to improve; in fact, we could start teaching financial literacy as early as kindergarten by helping kids understand how to save to buy something they want, rather than just giving it to them.

Whether or not they’ve received any prior financial literacy education, it is especially important for prospective college students to get a grasp on their finances before plunging into the world of student loans. According to recent reports, a college student in a four-year degree program in Pennsylvania who borrows money to pay for school is graduating with an average student loan debt of $31,675. That is the third-highest in the nation.

There’s no question that educating oneself is a good investment in the future, but it is important for young people to live within their means in order to pay off that debt in the future. Students who lack financial knowledge are likely to carry their lack of knowledge into adulthood, and poor financial decisions with lasting ramifications are likely to be the result.

Fortunately, financial literacy resources are available to help.

For parents and educators looking to prepare their young children to make good financial decisions, the Jump$tart Coalition offers a wealth of activities and teaching tools to help kids understand the basics of financial literacy, such as saving, investing, insurance and more. Check out the website at www.jumpstart.org/states-pennsylvania.html.

For college-bound students, and their parents, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has developed a free tool to help with the college-planning process. MySmartBorrowing.org provides estimators that help determine a student’s possible costs at different schools, future salary expectations in their field of study, availability of related employment opportunities, and their potential ability to repay student loans comfortably while affording an independent lifestyle.

Finally, the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants offers a variety of consumer resources on its website, PICPA.org.

Whether your goals are modest or you expect to make millions, financial literacy and planning are keys to your success.

Representative Mike Peifer
139th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Patricia Hippler
(717) 772-9846
phippler@pahousegop.com  
RepPeifer.com
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