It was freshman orientation time in August 1985. In the sweltering New Orleans heat, smiling bank officials lined up and argued over our business. They sold free water bottles, t-shirts and blankets. How could we resist?
Unfortunately, we didn’t. We signed our names on credit card applications from American Express, Discover, and even Diner’s Club, not knowing we were actually applying for loans. Left unchecked, these lines of credit led many of my generation into cycles of high-interest debt.
Fast forward nearly 25 years, and the Credit Card Act of 2009 has finally been enacted to put an end to these types of predatory credit card selling tactics on unassuming young people. Fast forward another decade, and here I am, proud to say that my students would never fall for these tactics anyway.
I teach personal finance at Lucy Beckham High School in Mount Pleasant. We are one of the few high schools in South Carolina to have made this class a requirement for all students prior to graduation. My students create budgets using spreadsheets and then estimate the reasonable amount of college debt based on their expected income so they don’t limit those budgets after graduation. They’re up to date on the fast-paced world of investing, explaining why an ETF (exchange-traded fund) is probably a better long-term investment than an NFT (non-fungible token).
These are essential life skills that I wish I had when I was their age. When parents thank me for teaching their child how to do their taxes, I see the multi-generational impact of the course. My students teach their families how FICO scores are calculated and why it’s important to review credit reports every year.
With so many parents reluctant to talk about money with their children, this course opens up a constructive dialogue. This ripple effect on families and communities is why the South Carolina Legislature must enact Senate Bill 16that would guarantee all high schoolers a one-semester course in personal finance before graduation.
While I’m glad my school had the foresight to require this course, these skills are too important to wait for individual schools to launch courses like this on their own. Currently, only 4% of SC high school students are required to take a personal finance course before graduation. Voters overwhelmingly agree: In a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, 84% of voters in our state said they “believe all high school students should be guaranteed to take a basic course in personal finance.” and 92% said passage of this bill is urgently needed.
Our lawmakers should review the research, which conclusively shows that students who receive high-quality personal finance training in school manage their finances better as adults, resulting in less debt, higher credit ratings, higher personal income and better quality of life.
Let’s not let South Carolina fall behind on this critical topic. If we look around the country, we see a wave of legislation focused on improving access to financial education. Indeed, 47 bills are pending in 20 states to support personal finance education. Florida recently guaranteed that all of its students would take a personal finance course for a full semester before graduation, and Georgia has a similar bill awaiting its governor’s signature.
S.16 is our chance to give future generations the knowledge and confidence to manage their money wisely while empowering families now. The Senate and House both passed the bill, but there are differences in the two versions that the two bodies have yet to resolve. The bill will die if the two sides fail to reach an agreement by mid-May. Please urge your Senator and Member of the House to endorse S.16 and send it to Governor Henry McMaster.
Bill Joy is a personal finance teacher at Lucy Beckham High School in Mount Pleasant.