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Financial Literacy

A Brighter Outlook for Financial Literacy and Emerging Generations?

There seems to be no across-the-board consensus about the level of financial literacy among Millennials and members of Generation X. Depending on what studies you look at, these younger generations have finally gotten the message about planning ahead or they remain financially illiterate and badly in need of education concerning their present and future financial status.

According to the 17th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers, a 2016 online survey of more than 4,000 full-time or part-time employees, nearly 75 percent of millennials (those born after 1979) noted they are actively saving for retirement either outside of their jobs or through an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Many in this age group are also “hungry for more education,” as the study notes, adding that 75 percent “say they would like more information and advice from their employers on how to achieve their retirement goals.”

However, a PricewaterhouseCoopers and George Washington University study entitled “Millennials & Financial Literacy: The Struggle with Personal Finances,” paints a dramatically different picture. Findings from the survey of more than 5,500 respondents aged 23-35, include:

•    Under 25 percent displayed only basic knowledge of financial concepts.
•    Almost 30 percent report being overdrawn on their checking accounts.
•    Less than 30 percent actively seek out professional financial guidance concerning investments and savings.

The outlook for members of Generation X (born between 1965-1978) is equally uncertain. According to a study commissioned by Allianz Life, Gen Xers (as well as Baby Boomers), are anxious about retirement, “with 84% of each group saying that stopping work at age 65 and retreating to a life of leisure is a bygone fantasy they’re unlikely to attain.”

Getting parents involved

Much more needs to be done, states Susan Beacham, CEO of Money Savvy Generation, Inc., and co-author of “O.M.G., Official Money Guide for College Students.”

On the plus side, considerably more media attention has been focused on financial literacy in recent months, which means “we no longer have to convince people that financial literacy is a critically important issue.” On the other hand, she contends, “Not enough people are getting smarter about finance because it’s still not being taught. When it’s not taught, it’s not learned.”

The parents of emerging generations need to take a more active role in financial education. For too long, says Beacham, parents assumed finance-related topics were taught in the classroom, when in fact, surprisingly little time is spent on these issues. So she and other experts are working more closely with parents and emphasizing the need for continual education.

“We should be teaching financial literacy not once, but more than once,” she says. “We wouldn’t teach math or reading once. Any critical skill must be taught more than once. Teaching in classrooms and then making sure parents take part at home will go a long way towards securing and embedding this valuable knowledge.”

Puncturing the notion of being “invincible”

Baby Boomers are, of course, the parents and grandparents of Millennials and Gen Xers. They can help boost financial literacy by making sure educational resources are available and by following up at significant points in the “money life” of their children and grandchildren.

“A young employee gets an envelope from HR with benefits information included,” Beacham says. “This is a perfect opportunity to ‘get in their kids’ business’ so they better understand what those benefits are and how they pertain to the young person’s financial future. Remember, when we’re at a young age, most of us feel invincible. It’s up to parents to ensure their children and grandchildren aren’t intimidated by financial information and actually pay attention to the future.”

Looking for answers

How does this learning process take place, particularly for young people on their own?

“We get smart by literally putting questions in the search engine,” Beacham notes. “There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but there is something wrong with not looking for the answers.”

Understandably, many people lack the time to read long, detailed books on financial topics. But other learning opportunities exist. For example, noted investor Warren Buffet recently wrote a letter to his shareholders. This document, like so many others, is available to everyone online.

“If you do nothing else, read the letter,” she says. “Search for reviews of Buffet’s letter and get clarification on what he wrote and wants to share with others. Gradually, your knowledge will increase.”

On the right path

With some basic online education, young people—often accompanied by parents or other older confidants—gain the confidence to seek out a financial advisor. This represents an enormous step forward in terms of acquiring financial literacy.

“It’s encouraging that many young people are becoming more financially literate,” Beacham concludes. “More organizations and school systems are finding ways to infuse this topic into their core curriculum. But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Lee Polevoi, a former senior writer for Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), is a freelance writer specializing in topics concerning CEO leadership and small business. Learn more at polevoicommunications.com.

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