ALEXANDRIA, Va.-In a recent op-ed published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NCUA Board Member Debbie Matz advocated that American children get financial education early on so they do not become overwhelmed with credit card debt when they go to college. In the opinion piece, she says that the students and gimmicky credit card applications are not entirely to blame for “Generation Debt.” “There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving students access to credit. What’s wrong is that we don’t give students access to financial education,” Matz wrote. She explained that two-thirds of high school seniors fail Jump$tart’s basic financial literacy exam with an average score of 50%. Most students don’t even know how to balance a checkbook. “This lack of financial literacy will haunt them the rest of their lives,” she stated. “Millions eventually come into credit unions or other institutions for financial counseling, but in most cases they don’t come until they’re deep in debt.” In the extreme, Matz said, financial burdens can cause academic and psychological problems, sometimes leading to suicide, as uncovered by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. With $2,700 on average on their credit cards and the average student loan balance of $19,400, many recent graduates are unable to manage these debts and the cost is passed on to all consumers. More than 20% run their credit card debt up to $7,000. Bankruptcies among consumers under 25 have grown 50% since 1991, Matz said, citing a study by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren. “Financial education should begin in elementary school. Early knowledge about saving and spending is as important – and as easy to learn – as addition and subtraction,” she wrote. “Financial education should advance through middle school and high school.” Credit unions and other financial institutions in many areas are willing to send financial counselors into schools to volunteer or be guest speakers or to underwrite financial education costs. She added that nearly half of states have passed laws to study the effects of credit cards on college students or limiting solicitations on campus.

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