(CNN) Debit cards, credit cards, saving and borrowing money – you probably learned a lot of what you know about personal finance from your own life experiences.  But in a world of economic uncertainty, rising college costs and social media that can target some of the youngest consumers, financial literacy may be more important than ever for your kids.

So who’s teaching your kids about money?

It’s not likely that they are learning it in school; personal finance is probably not a requirement for a high school diploma in your state.   According to the Jump$tart Coalition for Financial Literacy, only four states – Utah, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia – require at least a one-semester course in personal finance for high school graduation.

Several other states require that personal finance be woven into other subjects, like economics.  But less than half of all states require that students take economics.

In fact, most states offer economics and personal finance only as electives.

The 2011 Survey of the States, a biennial report by the Council for Economic Education that focuses on the importance of teaching economics and personal finance, shows that while there has been progress toward more course offerings and requirements in these subject areas since 1998, “the trend is now slowing, and in some cases, it’s moving backward.”

Virginia is one of the latest states to mandate that its high school students take personal finance.  Beginning with this year’s freshman class, students must take at least one credit in personal finance at some point in their four years of high school as a requirement for graduation.

Bradley Weeks teaches personal finance and business at Rappahannock County High School in Washington, Virginia.  He says that his students come to him knowing almost nothing about money. He uses a software-based curriculum with modules that teach about budgeting, housing, insurance and other consumer finance topics to help students get the basics.

Weeks says that his students’ immediate financial questions focus on college.  “They ask, ‘How much money will I need to borrow for college and will I find a job that will enable me to pay that back?’” Weeks says.

How much do kids need financial literacy?

“Kids don’t know enough about personal finance.  Our surveys consistently show that over the years,” says Laura Levine, president and executive director of Jump$tart.

The last National Jump$tart Coalition Survey of High School Seniors and College Seniors, conducted in 2008, says high school seniors had an average score of 48.3%, the lowest recorded, in financial literacy.  College seniors fared a little better, scoring an average 62.2%.

Questions on the Jump$tart survey revolve around everyday consumer issues like spending, saving, investing, budgeting, taxes and even insurance.  One question asked about the kind of insurance that covers damage to your car.  Although old enough to drive, only one-third of the high school seniors correctly identified “collision” from the answers provided.

Experts say children learn money habits from watching their parents, so parents need to start teaching their children about money early on.

While many do try to teach their kids about money, according to Levine, there are many students who need that training from their schools. “We need to get to those kids who don’t get financial education at home,” says Levine.

The payoff

Teaching kids financial literacy pays off in the long run. According to, teens who receive personal finance education not only manage their money better and have less debt, but they also achieve higher net worth between the ages of 30-49.

And Weeks agrees that kids need to learn personal finance, too.  “I tell them, if you don’t master financial literacy, you’ll be a victim,” he says.

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Filed under: At Home • High school • Policy • Practice
Shalimar Fodra

Shalimar Fodra

Assessora pedagógica Bilíngue

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