Young adulthood can be a thrilling time for those living on their own for the first time, balancing schoolwork and a job, and paying for necessities. But many don’t know how to manage all of this.
About a third of young adults (32%) were considered “financially precarious,” meaning they had few money management skills and little income stability, according to a University of Illinois study. Another 36% of participants were considered financially “at risk” because they had an unexpected drop in income within the year and had no savings to support themselves. They also didn’t have enough to pay for a $2,000 emergency.
Approximately 10% also said they struggled with money management, such as budgeting and credit-card usage, and would put their health in jeopardy by avoiding doctor visits and prescriptions because of costs. Only 22% were deemed financially stable, meaning they were saving at a mainstream bank and steered clear of financial services that charge higher interest and fees, such as payday lenders. They were more likely to be white males, employed and college-educated.
A lack of financial education can have serious consequences, especially for young adults preparing to choose colleges and the loans they’ll take to attend these schools.
Researchers analyzed the answers of 3,050 people 18 and older who participated in the National Financial Capability Study. Young adults were categorized as between 18 and 24 years old.
The findings highlight how many young people are leaving high school and even college without a basic understanding of how to handle their money, and starting their first jobs without little idea of what to do with their paychecks.
Americans are woefully behind in financial literacy. Last year, the U.S. ranked seventh out of 15 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment, which evaluates 15-year-old students’ knowledge in science, reading, math and financial literacy. More than a fifth of U.S. teenagers were considered financially illiterate.
A lack of financial education can have serious consequences, especially for young adults who are preparing to choose colleges and the loans they’ll take to attend these schools. If they decide to live in a dorm or move off campus, they’ll also have other monetary decisions to weigh, such as whether they can afford housing payments and food bills.
China was ranked first for top-performing students, who were able to solve financial problems and consider the future when making financial decisions. Just 10% of American students were at that level.
In fact, only 16.4% of the 13 million high-school students across the country in 2017 were required to take a personal-finance course to graduate, according to Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit organization in Palo Alto, Calif. that offers personal-finance curriculum to teachers. Excluding the five states that mandate a personal-finance course that figure drops to 8.6%.
Learning the difference between saving and investing, the impact of student loans and how credit works, and picking a suitable job and forgoing unnecessary purchases are some of the most important money lessons for high-school students.
Also see: 5 apps to help teach teens about money
Even members of the “financially stable” group weren’t all that confident in their financial literacy, the researchers in the most recent University of Illinois study said.
Many Americans are not financially literate, despite what they might think. About 44% of participants said they were extremely or very financially literate, but when they took a financial quiz, less than half passed, according to a study by financial-services research firm Raddon. Only 6% received a grade of 90 or better.
When children and young adults don’t learn lessons about money in school, they will pick up their parents’ financial habits instead. When parents have bad money habits, kids adopt them too, according to a T. Rowe Price study from 2017. Another study from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2015 found parents were “critical” in forming their children’s financial literacy.
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