In a September paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Professor Brigitte Madrian and her co-authors reviewedthe current state of U.S. financial education. In an interview, Madrian, a professor in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, provided some fresh insights into education, regulation, and the role of the financial industry.
Q: Besides low financial literacy, why do people make bad financial decisions?
A: Procrastination. Inattention – one reason people accrue credit card late fees is that they forget to pay their bills on time. Advertising – people are swayed by the marketing of financial services and products. Not all products pushed by financial advisers or financial-services companies are appropriate for everyone, and sometimes people are swayed into purchasing products that may be right for someone else but aren’t right for them.
Q: Does financial education even work?
A: I believe the jury is out. We do not have a lot of compelling evidence on the impact of financial literacy programs. There have been lots of studies on programs, but many of them are of dubious scientific validity. Of the ones that are more credible in terms of methodology, some find very little impact on financial education and a handful find financially positive effects. …
Leave it to high school kids to inject some much-needed perspective into our economic and policy debates.
In Tuesday’s election, the presidential election may come down to a few swing states. But the next president, whoever he is, faces tough challenges – topped by the massive destruction of roads and transit systems wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, a tepid economy, and the “fiscal cliff” that a divided Congress enacted to automatically cut the $1 trillion budget deficit.
This video, by students at the East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, Georgia, was among the winners of a contest sponsored by the Council for Economic Education, a national financial literacy organization that also has state chapters.
Click here for winning videos submitted by high schools in New Jersey and Maryland.Learn More
Admissions policies and financial aid packages at individual colleges – not just tuitions and fees – are significant determinants of student loan levels, according to new research.
No wonder there’s a cottage industry of financial planners who specialize in counseling families on college admissions: this granular – and often invisible – information about financial aid is critical to whether your child carries a burdensome debt load with his diploma on graduation day.
The media and policymakers – and (Squared Away adds) parents – “have assumed that tuition and university sticker prices are the primary if not the sole factor driving the rise in student indebtedness,” James Monks, an economist in the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, concluded in an October paper. “This assumption ignores the substantial impact that college and university admissions and financial aid policies” have in determining debt levels.
Certainly parents should pay attention to tuition and fees. But Monk found that public college admission policies that are blind to students’ financial circumstances produce students with “a higher average debt upon graduation,” which tends to fall on their lower-income students. When a college says that it is “need-blind,” it is saying that it looks at each student’s financial situation only after deciding whether to admit him or her based on test scores, grades and letters – this policy is typically aimed at increasing enrollment of low-income students. After agreeing to accept a student, the institutions try to help those who need it most through their financial aid packages. But this aid often falls short, requiring heavy borrowing by students.
In contrast, the target of some private institutions is to maximize the number of students graduating with no debt or limited debt. At institutions with such policies, Monks found that students have significantly lower debt levels than institutions that lack this policy.
Danielle Schultz, a straight-talking Evanston, Illinois, financial planner said most public colleges claim to be need-blind in selecting their incoming freshman class. But at a time when state budgets are tight, far fewer now have the financial resources to back up such a policy, she said, which drives up borrowing by their students. As for private colleges, she said they’re also feeling financial pressure and believes that fewer institutions than in the past can afford to maintain generous no-debt policies.
Rising debt levels is the result. U.S. college graduates had $26,600 in student debt last year, up 45 percent from 2004, according to a new report by the Institute for College Access and Success.
Schultz, who just successfully shipped her daughter off to college – Bryn Mawr outside Philadelphia – describes college application as a treacherous process rife with pitfalls.
“Schools are in the business of forking over the least money possible to get the most motivated kids and the most diversity,” she said. The onus is increasingly on parents “to think hard about what kind of dollars they are willing to fork over.” These days, it’s about the major: can the student get a job after college? Her rule: don’t borrow more than the student can expect to earn the first year after graduation…Learn More
Americans with college degrees are more likely to overuse their credit cards, home equity loans and other debts than are people who didn’t attend college, according to research in the latest International Journal of Consumer Studies.
“I was really expecting the reverse,” Sherman Hanna, a professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus, said about the results of his research, conducted in conjunction with Ewha Womans University in Seoul and the University of Georgia in Athens.
The study also reveals the increasing fragility of Americans’ finances, particularly in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis when overall debt levels surged amid what Hanna called a “democratization of credit” that made it easier – critics said too easy – to borrow.
The percent of all U.S. households with monthly debt payments exceeding 40 percent of their pretax income rose from 18 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2007. (Consumers have slashed their debt during the recent recession.)
Based on education levels, Americans with a bachelor’s or graduate degree had more than a 32 percent likelihood of being heavily in debt. That compared with 24.5 percent for people who graduated from high school and did not attend college, according to the study, which tracked U.S. households from 1992 through 2007. To make their comparison, the researchers controlled for the effect of incomes.
The researchers designated households in their sample as being heavily in debt if their monthly loan payments and other debt obligations exceeded 40 percent of their pretax income. That is a high share of income to devote every month to paying off loans, rather than buying groceries, saving for retirement, or utilities…Learn More
The share of women enrolled in college is increasing, and more women are breaking into the top tier of business, government and non-profits.
But at the same time that women are achieving more status than at in any time in history, we still know much less than men about money and finance. What’s up with that?
Financial literacy is important to women, because they live longer and need more retirement savings. Another reason this matters is that women are, according to a recent federal report, more financially vulnerable than men, particularly when they become divorced, widowed, or retired.
Anyone who is not savvy “will have a much tougher time preparing themselves for retirement,” Roger Ferguson, the president of the TIAA-CREF retirement system, said at the retirement research conference in Washington.
In a now-famous survey designed by Annamaria Lusardi, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business, and Olivia Mitchell at The Wharton School, only one in five American women who were asked three simple financial questions got them all right.
And the problem of financially illiterate women is universal. Lusardi recently fielded her survey on a global scale and found the same abysmal results. “Whether you look at the Netherlands or Sweden or Italy or the U.S. – these are very different countries – women know less than men,” she said.
She is, nevertheless, optimistic, because women are also more likely to admit what they do not know. Half of women in a separate U.S. study said they didn’t know the survey answers, while only one-third of men did. This admission can be viewed as “a good thing for women,” Lusardi said.Learn More
Last week, Squared Away published the first five of 10 strategies to help parents and their college-bound kids limit their borrowing through student loans. As promised, readers can find the remaining five ideas below.
On a complexity scale, finding a college is comparable to buying a house, and some of these debt-cutting strategies are extremely difficult to put into practice. In addition to the financial challenges involved, the emotional aspects of parent-child dynamics and the college application process are daunting.
But the soaring cost of an undergraduate education has made student debt prevention a top priority for most families. Here’s more help from college financial advisers.
Deborah Fox of Fox College Funding LLC in San Diego said the days of majoring in English, philosophy or history are over – or should be. Given the financial pressures of college, she said, students can’t afford to “just study what’s interesting to you.” When weighing future earnings for graduates with such majors, the numbers just don’t add up, especially if the English degree is from a high-cost institution like Columbia University (high cost among private colleges) or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (expensive for in-state students).
Fox asks her clients to identify skills the college-bound teenager is good at. When entering college, they should already have a handful of potential occupations in mind. Then they can focus on relevant internships, jobs, courses and life skills that will help them get a job when they graduate – and begin paying back their loans. Freshmen should immediately begin testing their theories about the work they’ll want to do – “possibilities they could get excited about,” she said. She tells clients’ kids to “start exploring them immediately, shadow [people in their field], take someone out for coffee. Find out what is the day-to-day work like.” …Learn More
It’s panic time! College-bound teenagers and their parents are excitedly touring colleges this summer, or they’re signing the dreaded Stafford loan documents to pay for college in the fall.
One thing is crystal clear in the emotional fog of this exhilarating rite of passage: parents and their teenagers both need to get serious about limiting their dependence on student loans. Squared Away asked several experts on financing a college education for their best tips on minimizing total borrowing for college.
Some of their debt-cutting strategies are difficult to swallow. But since 2005, student loans have shot up 55 percent, to $24,301 per student, for an undergraduate degree that has, as one financial adviser noted, become “ubiquitous.” Yet college places an unprecedented financial burden on parents also saving for retirement and on graduates when they get their first full-time jobs. Debt prevention also requires families to face head-on the emotional roadblocks to an affordable education.
Squared Away came up with 10 debt-prevention strategies. Here are the first five ideas, with five more scheduled for next Tuesday. Links to Web resources are also sprinkled throughout the article.
Aid Deadlines Are Crucial
Buy a calendar and red marker and closely track every single deadline for merit or need-based aid – they’re different for each college under consideration.
“If I could give you one piece of advice that would be it,” said Lyssa Thaden, a financial education manager for American Student Assistance, which educates and counsels student-loan borrowers.
Thaden listed four common mistakes that cost parents dearly, requiring them to borrow more: …Learn More