Have you heard the statistics? They're terrifying. It seems as though every week there's another study highlighting the sad state of Americans' finances. Seventy-two percent of high school students think an IRA is a '90s rap group! The average American family has $0.37 and a stick of gum in its savings account! Forty-two percent of working adults believe magical unicorns will give them a pension when they retire!
OK. So it's not quite that bad -- yet. But the real statistics are almost as scary. For example, according to the Young Americans Center for Financial Education:
- Forty percent of Americans say they live beyond their means.
- The average household with debt carries approximately $10,000 to $12,000 in total revolving debt and has nine credit cards.
- Forty-five percent of college students are in credit card debt, and the average amount is more than $3,000. (University administrators say they lose more students to credit card debt than to academic failure!)
- The country actually had a negative savings rate in 2005 -- minus-0.5%, to be exact.
- And perhaps the scariest statistic of all: In 2002, more people in America filed for bankruptcy than graduated from college.
But numbers like this aren't inevitable. More education in financial literacy -- individuals' ability to manage their personal finances, from credit cards to retirement savings -- could mean an end to this epidemic.
Foolanthropy, our annual charity drive (now in its 10th year!) is under way. And financial literacy is at the heart of its mission, Motley Fool co-founder and Foolanthropy co-chair David Gardner said. "The day that more Americans learn how to become financially independent than learn whether or not they won their rip-off state lottery, that is the day we'll drop our 'More Financial Literacy' mantra," he said. "It will be a grand day, indeed. Our foremost Foolanthropic focus is the literacy that will strengthen our society so very much: financial literacy."
And this is where we need your help. If you know of a group that's dedicated to increasing financial literacy to help people improve their lives, we're asking you to head over to the discussion board and tell us about it. We're taking nominations through Friday, Nov. 10, and on the 20th, we'll announce the five nominated charities that we think are the most Foolish -- one of which will have financial literacy as its mission. (For more details on this year's campaign, and what Foolanthropy is all about, read "When Fools Unite.")
We're not the only ones taking an interest in this issue. For one, there's the government. Its Financial Literacy and Education Commission site, begun in 2003, provides resources on everything from buying a home to balancing a checkbook. And some companies are getting involved as well. Visa's Practical Money Skills for Life is a comprehensive site geared toward a variety of ages and needs. This site offers classroom resources for teachers, financial management tools for small businesses, a "banking tutor," a "Financial Football Training Camp," games, and podcasts, as well as various quizzes and applications to help users figure out how much to save for retirement, spend for the holidays, or save for college.
Of course, these aren't the only organizations making an effort in this area, and we need you to tell us which others are the best. Nominate a charity that educates consumers on their financial health, and you can help it -- and us -- change lives. Charities like this help keep kids in college by teaching them how to handle credit responsibly. They protect families from being devastated by unforeseen expenses by helping them plan for emergencies. They keep retirees from depending on Social Security -- or unicorns -- by showing them how to plan for secure retirement years.
Sound financial decisions . no unicorns required. What could be more Foolish than that?