Anne Rigney, J.D.
General Counsel, Society of Financial Service Professionals
My 24-year-old daughter Nora recently graduated from NYU with honors. She is bright and capable with a full-time job in theatre marketing.
Yet, despite having a good head on her shoulders and a degree from a highly-respected university, she is overwhelmed when confronted with the myriad financial decisions hitting her fast and furiously.
How should she handle her student loans totaling $40,000? Is she paying a fair interest rate? Can they be consolidated? And what about the credit card offers flooding her mailbox? What’s a good APR? What the heck is an APR anyway?
Nora recently became eligible for health insurance coverage at her job. How does she decide whether to go with this new option or stick with coverage through my employer? What about the company’s 401(k) plan? Does that make sense at age 24? Isn’t that too young to be worrying about retirement?
The financial literacy deficit
Nora is not alone in being challenged with these financial decisions. Financial literacy is an issue for both men and women in the United States today, but it becomes more acute for women who, as recently as 2016, were making just 78 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts; and who traditionally spend about 10 years out of the workforce raising children and providing care for older family members, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This raises the questions of what is the optimal age women should achieve financial literacy and when does it actually occur?
“People of either sex should have achieved basic financial literacy by the age they go to college or start earning a living,” said Ann Hartmann, a personal financial advisor based in Toledo and a past president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP). “That literacy is then extended to dealing with major purchases, such as a home or car, and with handling corporate-provided benefits and taking on long-range planning.”
Hartmann said reality is different and that few truly achieve financial literacy by an early age. She salutes the schools and youth groups, like the Girl Scouts, that teach financial concepts to young people.
Melissa Dornan, a member of the Society of FSP’s board of directors and an advisor with CCCSMD, a credit counseling service in Maryland, echoed the need to start early: “While it’s never too late to learn, the earlier women, men, everyone, gain financial knowledge and understanding, the better off they will be.”
Making literacy digestible
Another factor at play here is information overload. Steve Parrish, director of the New York Life Center for the Retirement Income Planning at The American College, suggests that, beyond a literacy issue, there is simply too much information to deal with effectively. This hits especially hard for women who are juggling career and family while trying to make good financial decisions.
In a recent article in the Journal of Financial Service Professionals, Parrish emphasized the importance of the trusted financial advisor to translate and apply the already massive amount of information available to the consumer.
So what advice do I give to my millennial daughter and the women like her in Gen X and Gen Y, and even baby boomers like me?
First, as Dornan said, it’s never too late to learn the basics, like budgeting and understanding consumer debt. Second, when it comes to longer-range decisions, finding a trusted advisor is key. Seeking out a practitioner who is educated and bound by a code of conduct, such as a member of the Society of FSP, can make a difference. And, third, help stop the cycle of illiteracy by encouraging financial education for your daughters and granddaughters even as early as preschool.
Anne Rigney, J.D., General Counsel, Society of Financial Service Professionals, [email protected]