In this column we will look at some of the additional things that students can learn in a personal finance class, with the goal of increasing their Financial IQ’s. As I have so often said and written, for me, such a class is necessary for young people not only to learn to survive in our complicated world of financial products, but, also, so that they can go one step further and learn how to use finances for themselves, instead of for the financial services industry.
Once again, it is my hope that this series, on what students can learn in a course on Personal Finance and Money Management, will encourage more school districts to require such a course, and, if nothing else, it will give concerned parents something for their high school students to read. In the 19 school districts in Monroe County, where Rochester is located, and the 12 school districts in Wayne County, which adjoins Monroe County, only five districts have such a requirement. There could be more, but I am only aware of these: Spencerport, Sodus, Wayne, Webster, and Wheatland-Chili. Perhaps by next April’s Financial Literacy for Youth Month, there will be more.
Module three of the NEFE High School Financial Planning Program on Earning Power is about more than just the economics of eventually being employed full-time. It is also about starting to think seriously about what interests you have in life, what are you really good at, and is there a career path that can match your interests and values with your abilities and aptitudes. It starts with a visit to jobcenter.usa.gov where students can take an interest assessment, explore careers, research educational opportunities and plan a job search.
One important thing that is discussed is having a fallback, a Plan B career if your “passion” doesn’t work out, for economic or other reasons. Other discussions include how life is impacted by your job and career. For example, a better paying job can help you reach all of your financial goals earlier, and a job that you really like can impact your health, happiness, and positive lifestyle.
This also leads into the issues surrounding the need for additional education beyond high school, including training programs, apprenticeships, the military, college, (two-year and four-year), and their respective resulting opportunities, as well as college costs and student loan debt, and ways to minimize them. This is where they can have extensive discussions about applying for scholarships, 529 Savings plans, graduating on time, and taking Advanced Placement courses to test out of college credits. In addition, they look at the ins and outs of student loan debt, including government vs. private loans, deferments, consolidations, defaults, income-based repayment plans, and more.
$ SALARY, TAXES, BENEFITS AND MORE. Since only about 35% of high school students currently have summer jobs, I don’t know where else the others are going to learn about these things, so they can start thinking about them. Here they learn about federal, state and local income taxes and FICA (Social Security) taxes — a real eye opener! — as well as the need for filing a W-4 Withholding Form, and how it may change as your life circumstances change. They discuss the different kinds of salary, including overtime pay, tips, commissions, and bonuses. They also look at payroll deductions beyond those for taxes, like for general savings, charitable contributions, and retirement savings.
They also learn about employee benefits, like paid leave, health insurance, a retirement savings plan, employer matching plans, life and disability insurance, tuition assistance, training and professional development, employee discounts, on-site child care, and many more. This leads to discussions about the need to factor any of these available benefits into any evaluation of job opportunities, as well as the added costs for any particular job vs. another job opportunity. These include things like the costs of transportation, child care, union memberships, clothing and more.
$ JUMP-START THE JOURNEY AND JOB PERFORMANCE TIPS. Here students learn about and discuss part time jobs as a way to build important skills, targeted volunteer work, internships, training camps, job shadowing, joining career related clubs, and more. Finally, students learn about job performance issues, including always being on time, meeting deadlines, looking for solutions to problems, having a mentor, keeping a list of your accomplishments, cooperating with and helping others, volunteering when appropriate, and much more.
Let’s turn to the NEFE Module on investing.
$ PAY YOURSELF FIRST TO MEET YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS. This includes saving for an emergency, and the various options, including a savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit or savings bond. They look at compounding, annual percentage yield, and how to evaluate the best return on short term investments that have very little risk and liquidity. For long-term financial goals, they look at the need to outpace inflation to maintain your spending power, the time value of money, risk and risk tolerance, diversification, and the need to start as early as possible, by looking at calculators that show how much more you can have at retirement if you do start earlier.
$ INVESTMENT OPTIONS. Students look at income and growth investments, including stocks, mutual funds, ETF’s, bonds, real estate, collectibles, and starting a business, as well as the risks and costs of those investments, including fee-based and commission-based advisors. They also learn about dollar cost averaging and retirement plans, like 401(k) plans and IRAs. They also play online stock market games to learn the ins and outs of trading, as well as the need to have a long term, less emotional view, especially when you are young.
$ INVEST WINDFALLS. Here they look at the wisdom of investing at least some of any bonuses, inheritances, raises, and tax refunds.
In the next column we will finish the NEFE modules.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.