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Missouri gets "A' for financial literacy

Top 5 ranking keyed by high school personal finance courses October 29, 2015 at 3:15 a.m. | Updated October 29, 2015 at 3:15 a.m.

A recent report ranked Missouri one of the top five states for teaching financial literacy in high school, a topic studies suggest is essential because the millennial generation is "dangerously illiterate" in finances.

The Champlain College's Center for Financial Literacy graded all 50 states for financial literacy, and 26 states received grades of C, D or F.

Missouri was one of only five that achieved an A grade for requiring all high school students to take the equivalent of one semester - approximately 60 hours - of personal finance.

The center is a Vermont-based, nationally-acclaimed financial literacy program that aims to increase knowledge of money matters. It is designed to promote and develop financial literacy skills in K-12 students, college students, teachers and adults, according to the center's website.

Kathy Jarman teaches the Foundations of Personal Finance course at Helias Catholic High School, and she said the class is vitally important for young people, especially as they head off to college.

The Dave Ramsey model she teaches suggests students avoid credit cards, lowering their potential to accrue overwhelming debt, and build savings for emergencies or large purchases.

The class covers savings funds, investing for the future, 401(k)s, consumer awareness and budgeting. She also groups students into small families and tosses financial woes at them, including costly car troubles and increased health insurance payments.

During the project the "family" has to budget its monthly expenses, plan an affordable vacation and buy a family car.

"Managing money seems so simple, but the vast population doesn't know how to," Jarman said. "When 70 percent of the population lives paycheck to paycheck, it's clear folks don't know how to manage money."

Only 24 percent of millennials (ages 18 to 34) surveyed could answer four out of five questions correctly in a financial literacy quiz, according to the 2014 FINRA Foundation Financial Capability Insights study.

Seven in 10 college students who graduated in 2013 averaged $28,400 in student debt, and the delinquency rate on student loans continue to rise, according to the 2015 quarterly report on Household Debt and Credit released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Ryan Haslag, a 2010 Helias graduate, said while he was in high school he didn't know much about managing money, but it became a hugely important skill while he was juggling bills in college.

Haslag was able to do it without any credit cards and has even paid $15,500 for a car with cash. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 2014 with $20,000 in student loan debt.

While he has had help from his parents paying off his loans, he is paying it off quickly because of the skills he learned from the personal finance class.

"Because that's my only form of debt, I apply money toward that every month," Haslag said. "I learned how much you end up paying in interest if you let it build, so I understand how important it is to get rid of it quickly."

By the end of 2017, he plans to have all of his student loans paid off and is already well on his way.

Jarman said many young people might struggle with finances because they never learned how to budget themselves.

"I was never really taught how to manage my money, and part of it is, I think, adults keep their financial status private from children and it wasn't a focus in academics," Jarman said.

Finance is a practical skill, and it is getting more attention in school now.

Jarman said former students frequently contact her about the returns they've earned on investment stocks and how they've paid for cars and college with little to no debt.

"I do love teaching it," Jarman said. "Whether you earn $30,000 or $300,000 a year, you have to learn how to budget."

The other states that received A grades from Champlain College's Center for Financial Literacy are Alabama, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.

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