Help Us Combat Financial Illiteracy Now

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Do you know the current APR on your credit card? What about one difference between a money market account and a money market fund? Quick, what’s 15% of 527?

Actually, scratch that last question -- even we need a calculator for that one. So, aside from the on-the-spot math stumper, how’d you do? How sure were you of your answers? If you asked 10 strangers the same kinds of basic money questions, how many do you think would get them right? Sadly, we think not many.

It’s not stupidity, it’s simply lack of preparation
Whose fault is it that most Americans lack basic financial skills? Blame the Man. That’s right, the Man, the System, the forces known only as “They” (as in “they say ...”) -- all of them!

If you’re even mildly riled about being set up for financial failure, good -- we wanted to get your attention. You should be irked about the sad state of the average Joe and Jane’s finances. We should all be sickened about this issue, especially now that it's finally getting a sliver of the spotlight during the current financial crisis thanks to companies like Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) , AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) , and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) .

The real problem plaguing our country is this: the appalling lack of formal financial education in our school systems. Without a basic financial foundation, we can end up in dangerous waters when it comes to poor lending practices and living above our means.

Get a load of this:

  • Only three states mandate a full semester of personal finance education in high school.
  • 17 states cram personal finance lessons into other subjects (math, social studies, etc.).
  • And a whopping 30 states teach students nothing -- nada, zip -- about finances in school.

Dude, what the ...?
Any wonder why so many people struggle with even basic money tasks? And when we do finally figure our finances out, it’s mostly because we had to learn the lessons the hard way. Sometimes we get sucked into the vortex of credit card debt (which really means we’re doing our part to pad the pockets of MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) and Visa (NYSE: V  ) , who reported $4.8 billion and $6.3 billion respectively in revenue over the last 12 months); sometimes we overdraw our bank accounts or have to default on loans just to make ends meet; and sometimes we watch our savings get “rightsized” because we didn’t understand how to spread our risk smartly around.

As people pay their bills, try to figure out how they’ll ever afford to buy a home or send their kids to college, and tackle that stack of benefits and retirement-plan paperwork HR handed them, you can practically hear the collective cry: “Dude, what the ...?”

Clearly, learning money and investing lessons the hard way is not working out so well.

What we can do with just one click
We wish we could offer a do-over to everyone who has gotten burned by a bad money decision. (We can give you the next best thing -- but more on that in a sec.) What we can do is eradicate financial illiteracy ... starting right this very moment.

At The Motley Fool, we believe that the best way to combat this issue is to educate -- and educate early. Our aim is to give every single student a permanent foundation for financial independence.

We’ve found a like-minded partner -- the National Council on Economic Education -- whose mission is to teach personal finance to students around the world. This organization reaches more than 150,000 teachers and 15 million students every year.

Simply put, the NCEE’s sole mission is one we wholeheartedly believe in -- teaching kids the importance of saving and giving them a permanent foundation for financial independence.

We Fools are huge fans -- and we hope you are too. But we can’t spread the word alone ... that’s where you come in.

For every new fan of the Motley Fool’s Facebook page, we will donate $0.10 to NCEE’s “Learning, Earning, and Investing“ program until we reach $50,000. So become a fan and spread the word by sharing our page with your friends.

With just one click, you can help us help teachers churn out class upon class of financially literate, confident students -- ones with the smarts to avoid the mistakes that currently plague our economy and threaten every household’s way of life.

Ah, but we haven’t forgotten you -- those left behind in the great wealth-building machine ...

Strike while the stock market is cold
Financial education isn’t something that stops after the principal hands you a diploma. It’s a lifelong pursuit -- one that should be equally embraced by everyone, whether you’re 15, 55, or just turned 83 (hi, Grandma!).

Our newest investing book, The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio: How to Build and Grow a Panic-Proof Investment Portfolio, was written in the same spirit as all of our previous tomes. We wanted to lay bare our simple philosophies -- our proprietary strategies and tested approaches -- so that individual investors can attain even their loftiest financial goals.

Hey, we know convincing investors to put money in this market is a hard sell. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, now is precisely the time to think about getting back in the game -- the time when true wealth is built by those with the smarts to know the gettin’ is good.

The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio book hits stores today, and you can pick up your copy here. Most importantly, though, we hope you join our movement to spread the knowledge and help eradicate financial illiteracy. Help The Motley Fool raise money for a worthy cause.

Thanks, and Fool on!

In our first book in more than five years, The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio: How to Build and Grow a Panic-Proof Investment Portfolio, we present the investing playbook we believe will help you amass that million-dollar portfolio. The book (on sale today) presents the strategies -- value, growth, small, large, domestic, international -- we preach and practice every day at The Motley Fool. But it goes one step further: It shows you how to put them all together.

Dayana Yochim owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned above. Bank of America is an Income Investor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that updated its Facebook status this morning.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2008, at 9:20 AM, arkady23 wrote:

    "Sometimes we get sucked into the vortex of credit card debt (which really means we’re doing our part to pad the pockets of MasterCard (NYSE: MA) and Visa (NYSE: V), who reported $4.8 billion and $6.3 billion respectively in revenue over the last 12 months)."

    Speaking of financial illiteracy, please explain to us how MA or V made a penny from credit card debt. Onlyh the issuing banks make money by lending consumers money; Visa and MasterCard make money on the transactions.

    That said, I agree that most people are painfully ignorant of basic financial matters. I actually don't know my APR myself ... but that doesn't matter if you never revolve, which is probably the best policy as far as credit cards are concerned.

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