America Isn't Teaching Kids How To Manage Money. And That's A Problem

We can do better.
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When it comes to understanding how to use a credit card responsibly, how to take out a loan or how to invest our money, Americans have a lot to catch up on.

A global survey published last year found that the U.S. ranked 14th in the world for financial literacy, behind the Scandinavian countries, Canada, the Czech Republic and others. A new report suggests that the classroom may be part of the problem.

A large majority of K-12 teachers don’t bring financial education into their curriculum, according to a study out Monday by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Just 12 percent teach personal finance, even though 92 percent think that the topic should be included in the curriculum.

Part of the problem could be a lack of teachers with a strong enough background in the subject. Just 31 percent of respondents said they feel “completely comfortable” teaching financial education, and many said they didn’t have enough funds or materials to develop these types of curriculums, according to the report.

There’s another barrier involved, too. Many educators seem to think kids can get by without learning about personal finance: 62 percent of teachers surveyed said they don't think financial education is a critical skill for college or careers.

But financial literacy is crucial. In the U.S., student debt has ballooned to more than $1 trillion, and more than one-fourth of the 42 million Americans who have borrowed money to pay for higher education are either behind on their monthly payments or in default. People rely on their financial knowledge for all major life decisions, whether it’s applying for a mortgage or taking out auto insurance.

If financial education is insufficient in the classroom, it's not surprising that young people are having trouble grasping financial concepts. Previous research has highlighted the finance learning gap among kids in the U.S. and other countries. In 2014, a study led by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 15-year-olds in the U.S. understood less about money than their counterparts in eight other nations.

Some countries have developed finance programs targeted directly at kids in school. England mandated finance and money management classes in schools two years ago. In the Netherlands, the government partners with financial service providers to bring experts to schools to speak about personal finance.

Luckily, there are some signs that things might improve in the U.S. The PwC report notes that millennial teachers may be changing the way schools incorporate financial curriculums: 62 percent believe financial education should start in elementary school, while 47 believe it should start in the classroom and be supported at home.

Compare that to the 51 percent of non-millennial teachers who say financial education should begin at home and be supported by lessons taught in school; 42 percent of non-millennial teachers think it should start at school, with additional lessons at home.