Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
August 21, 2008
Paging through the September issue of Money Magazine, I came across an interview with Lauren Willis, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. The teaser reads, "Law professor Lauren Willis suggests that we just give up on financial literacy."
Since financial education is what I do for a living (and do it somewhat passionately, according to colleagues and participants in my workshops), you can imagine that this statement caught my attention.
In this short interview by Stephen Gandel, Ms. Willis makes several points:
I agree that I'm outgunned and outmanned by everyone from cell phone providers to sellers of variable annuities and banks sending out preapproved credit card offers. But here are some additional thoughts to consider:
Financial products do change. So when I teach about evaluating credit offers, I don't just teach what the Annual Percentage Rate. We talk about reading the fine print and questioning what you don't understand. That's a trasnferable skill that will apply no matter what the newest twist in consumer credit is. We don't just teach facts and figures, we teach how to question and protect yourself.
Will the same legislators who passed the Bankruptcy Reform Act at the behest of creditors pass the kind of pro-consumer regulations that Ms. Willis recommends as the alternative to financial education? And even if they do, will the resulting paperwork be so overwhelming that consumers will just sign without reading or benefitting from the required disclosures? Look at the stack of papers homebuyers must sign at closing as an example.
False confidence? I teach participants in my workshops to be suspicious of everything from the life insurance salesperson to the telephone company. I've had people reply on my evaluations that they feel less confident about their ability to manage their finances - because they know more! I consider that to be a success. But then there was the young woman who was ready to buy a car and had been told they were getting the best price. But using information I gave her, she re-negotiated and saved $2000. I've had people file amended tax returns to claim deductions they didn't know they were eligible for. In one series, people come back to the second class and for the first time realize how much they're spending on, say, lunch and how much they were able to save by making different decisions.
Financial education isn't just about "turning everyone into a financial planner." Many of my workshops include - or even focus on - how to recognize when you need help and how to select that help. For example, check out our tools for Choosing a Financial Professional. But hiring help isn't the answer for the immigrant family living on $25,000 a year.
The last question in the interview was, "Should parents stop teaching their kids about money?" Willis responded, "Of course not...families can do a much better job of teaching than government can." Yes - if your parents had those skills themselves and were willing to talk about it with their kids. But if they weren't, I'd like to give you the chance to learn some of that with me.
I realize that not everyone who comes to my classes and workshops is going to make major changes in their financial behaviors. But to give up? I'm not ready to go there.
What do you think? Click on my name below and send me an email with your thoughts on the value (or failure) of financial education.
August 14, 2008
People can argue back and forth about what's the best way to invest money. But there's one investment tip that everyone should take into account when choosing investments:
The numbers tell the truth. A recent article in Money magazine, "Is a 529 Still the Top College Savings Plan?," strongly recommends considering the annual fees when choosing a 529 plan. Why? Because FEES MATTER!
The fees may look small. Maybe annual expenses of 0.38% versus 1.65% don't look like that much difference, but just remember, FEES MATTER. According to the article, if you start investing $200 every month for your five-year old in a 529 plan with 0.38% annual expenses, you will have $3,200 more for your child when he/she is 18 years old than if you invested in a plan with 1.65% annual expenses (assuming both plans earned an annual average return of 5%).
I'm going to keep this blog short and simple so you remember this hot investment tip: FEES MATTER.
If you'd like to read more about how to maximize your profits and minimize investment costs, visit the Plan Well, Retire Well website. Once you've logged in, go to "Choose Investments" and listen to the presentation on the costs of investing.
August 14, 2008
Congratulations to Vanessa Egger of Chicago who got 100% on the Money Quiz!
Note to other readers: Take the quiz and let us know how you did! A good score could mean you're on your way to a financially comfortable future!
August 7, 2008
Oh, the good old days! When I went away to college my freshman year, my financial life was relatively simple. All I really needed to know how to do was write a check and manage my money for entertainment. Food and housing costs were set and paid for in a lump-sum because I lived in a dorm.
Finances for young people are more complicated now. With two sons leaving for college in a few weeks, I'm impressed with the financial skills they need. Check writing is a dying art, although they still need to know how to write a check. But they also need to know how to use and keep track of ATM withdrawals, use a debit card, and manage a credit card. Looking to the future, their checking and savings accounts are through an online bank. How do you do deposits for an online bank? By fax, of course!
When they arrive on campus, my sons will have more opportunities to mess up their finances then I did. First, the basics – eating. Rather than having a set meal plan, today's students often find that they need to budget their food spending even if they live in a dorm. No more eating all you want for one price!
Across college campuses, credit card offers abound. Young people can easily get credit cards without parents co-signing for cards. I decided to take the initiative this summer and helped my sons choose a credit card with a low-interest rate and no annual fee so that hopefully they won't be tempted by other credit card offers.
So, do I agree with a recent MSN Money article, "Why Generation Y is broke: 20- and 30-somethings are in a financial mess. Is it because we're dumb, arrogant or simply uneducated?"?While several interesting viewpoints are expressed, I think that young people today are struggling because there's more they need to know at an earlier age!
If you're interested in ways to help young people manage their finances as they move away from home, read "Helping Young Adults Budget Money".
Young people starting new jobs also are often challenged by making wise job benefit choices. Unlike "the good old days" retirement plans today usually require people to make investment choices and decisions. To learn more about different kinds of job-related retirement plans, visit University of Illinois Extension's free website, Plan Well, Retire Well.
August 6, 2008
It's rare that I read something in a magazine that makes such an impression that I can't get it out of my head. But that's what happened when I read "The Smartest Advice I Ever Got" in the August issue of Money Magazine. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love was one of three dozen "great minds" that Money asked to share the best money lessons they ever heard.
If you have trouble reminding yourself why you should pay your credit card off every money, or why you should wait until you have the money to buy that new HD TV or I-Phone, read this. I will forever think of this when I think about debt. Elizabeth Gilbert related this piece of advice that her father told her, which he had gotten from his grandfather:
Borrowing money is like wetting your bed in the middle of the night. At first all you feel is warmth and release. But very, very quickly comes the awful, cold discomfort of reality.
Elizabeth said that this image has stuck with her forever. Well, it made quite an impression on me, too. And now maybe it will be permanently imprinted on your brain as well! Who knows how many of you will shy away from charging something because you think of that "awful, cold discomfort" that comes with peeing in your bed. That's what I call powerful imagery!
And now that you're going to be spending a lot less now, maybe you can bump up your contribution to your 401(k) or your IRA. Check out the info on getting the most out of your retirement plan, and choosing investments, on our retirement how-to-guide at www.RetireWell.uiuc.edu.