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Financial Education, Government Style

Amid the vastness of the federal government, there's a tiny effort afoot to spread more knowledge of financial literacy across the land. It's so tiny that you've probably never heard of it. I hadn't, until some government auditors looked at its progress.

The effort started when a credit law, enacted a few years ago, required the government to do something to improve financial literacy. Some 20 agencies got together and produced a report that describes in detail the problem with not being financially literate.

The problem is that it takes a good measure of financial smarts to get along in life and achieve the really big goals, especially now that more people have become responsible for managing their own retirement savings and investments. However, the nation's personal savings rate has shrunken to a statistical zero, and household debt is ever on the rise.

In response, the loftily titled Financial Literacy and Education Commission formed. It has so far produced a website, mymoney.gov, which amassed in one place all of the personal-finance information that was spread across other government websites.

There's also a toll-free hot line that you can call to get some government pamphlets. However, only a few agencies ponied up the cash to make pamphlets available on their topics of specialty. Nothing is available on homeownership or credit, for example. And only a limited number of these kits are available. As a result, the commission isn't doing much to publicize the hot line.

In addition, the effort hasn't been too successful in getting anyone -- from government agencies to nonprofit organizations to potential corporate partners -- to do much of anything that they weren't already doing to promote financial literacy. The government auditors who checked up on the project weren't too pleased. (Link opens a PDF file.)

So maybe this commission will not be the answer to personal-finance questions reverberating across the land. The good news, though, is that you have lots of other places to look for answers to all of your money questions.

One organization promoting financial education is a pick for this year's Foolanthropy drive. The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship teaches entrepreneurship to young people from low-income neighborhoods, in an effort to help them improve their lives by enhancing their business, academic, and life skills.

They're not the only ones out there trying to educate the world about the mysterious workings of dollars and cents. Visa's Practical Money Skills for Life, for example, offers resources for teachers, employers, and individuals that covers all kinds of life events. There are also the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy and the National Council on Economic Education.

Chances are, if you're hanging out on the Fool's website, you probably have a handle on many things financial. Yet maybe it's time for you to take a refresher course, or to bone up on some less familiar topics, like increasingly popular exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

If you find some holes in your money knowledge, we have a lot of financial information that will help you take control of your financial life and your destiny. In the personal-finance center, you'll find loads of details about credit, banking, savings, and other major money topics.

We even have a special site where you can send your teens to get them thinking about saving and investing when they start becoming obsessed with iPods and cell phones.

Related Foolishness:

To learn even more about the importance of personal finance, consider signing up for a free 30-day trial to Motley Fool GreenLight. Our advisors, Dayana Yochim and Shannon Zimmerman, have all the money answers to your burning questions.

Foolanthropy is in its 10th year. Visit www.foolanthropy.com to read more about this year's recipients or to donate. Also, our "My 2 Cents" campaign is currently running. For every post to every Fool discussion board made in the month of December, the Fool chips in $0.02 to be split between the charities not receiving the $10,000 bonus. So start posting and chip in your 2 cents.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple promises there will not be a pop quiz, and she welcomes your feedback.


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