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Op-ed: Time to take a swing at financial literacy

By Philip Cofield and Charlie Lansche

First Published Apr 18 2014 05:47 pm • Last Updated Apr 18 2014 05:47 pm

"Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical," is one of the many sayings attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra. Though April does mark the start of baseball season, it’s also a month that promotes the need for the kind of education that might have helped Yogi improve on his ability to figure percentages.

The month is called National Financial Literacy Month, and it’s recognized as a time for students, parents and educators to focus on teaching young people personal financial basics – such as interest rate percentages and managing spending and saving – that will empower them to make smart financial decisions all through their lives.

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The state of financial literacy across America continues to be bleak, with comprehension of basic financial principles at alarmingly low rates. For example, a recent national report shows that only 27 percent of young adults know basic financial concepts such as interest rates and inflation.

The bottom line? People with inadequate education and low levels of financial literacy tend to be less financially secure, less able to make financial decisions, and less prepared to take care of personal and family responsibilities.

Here in Utah we’re making some progress. According to a recent national capability survey, Utah residents are the most financially literate in the United States. Since 2008, a semester of personal finance has been required for high school graduation. But like education generally, financial education works best when viewed as a lifetime endeavor. To be successful, each of us needs to start with basic money topics at an early age and then learn more through high school and into adulthood as our needs change.

With that in mind, Junior Achievement of Utah, with strong support from Fidelity Investments employee volunteers, has developed programs that build on Utah’s successes and help educate Utah’s students about financial literacy in several areas, including:

• JA’s Personal Finance program – with lessons from Saving for Life to The Budget Game – that enable volunteers, such as from Fidelity, to bring their experience to the classroom.

• JA’s Job Shadow Program, which includes teacher-led in-class curriculum and events where Fidelity employees help students learn about careers, financial concepts and planning.

These programs enable our youth to better understand the relevancy of personal finance and help prepare them for economic success. Just as Fidelity makes its financial expertise accessible and effective in helping people live the lives they want, the company and employees take a similar approach in giving back to communities across the United States through volunteer programs such as these. Many employee volunteers, such as Chris Milburn, say their expertise in helping students mirrors that used with customers every day. And the kids love what they’re learning.

"We learned that we need to have a financial plan, that nobody wants to be bankrupt," said one student. "I have learned stuff that I will use for the rest of my life." Said another: "This class has helped me immensely to get ready for the future and to help prepare me for the financial situations I will be facing when I am older."

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This effort is very important to us because it demonstrates how working together with compassion and a deep feeling of responsibility to the community can help our students make wise decisions for themselves and their futures. We encourage students and teachers to take advantage of all opportunities to advance financial literacy among young people. And all of us parents also have a responsibility to talk with our sons and daughters about money. After that, we can go watch the baseball game.

Philip Cofield is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Utah, Inc. Charlie Lansche is vice president of public affairs for Fidelity Investments

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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