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Government offers financial literacy campaign

Denver Business JournalOn the Money
From the October 5 2007 print edition

In 2003, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) was enacted. It included the formation of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission. Given the recent turmoil in the credit markets, let’s examine what the commission has to offer.

The legislation states, “The Commission shall serve to improve the financial literacy and education of persons in the United States through development of a national strategy to promote financial literacy and education.”

Twenty federal agencies contribute to the commission.

To reach the widest number of people possible, the commission established a Web site (www.MyMoney.gov) and a toll-free telephone number (1-888-MYMONEY) to coordinate the presentation of educational materials from the federal agencies that deal with financial issues and markets.

There are 11 categories, each with plenty of information, including budgeting and taxes; home ownership; privacy, fraud and scams; and starting a small business. Additionally, the Web site provides tools and resources, including financial calculators, financial education grants, member agencies and public service announcements.

MyMoney.gov is available in both English and Spanish.

The primary document that describes the commission’s plan is titled, “Taking Ownership of the Future: The National Strategy for Financial Literacy.” It’s a comprehensive (162 pages) blueprint for improving financial literacy in America. It covers 13 areas of financial education and contains 26 specific calls to action.

You can download it from www.mymoney.gov/pdfs/add07strategy.pdf.

The commission also provides a free “My Money” Tool Kit. In addition to being available on the www.MyMoney.gov Web site, the kit may be ordered by phone by calling 1-888-696-6639, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mountain Time (except federal holidays).

The tool kit contains these publications:

  1. Consumer Action Handbook — A resource directory that provides information on how to contact specific businesses and local consumer protection offices.
  2. Consumer Advisory on Forex Fraud — Contains information about foreign currency fraud.
  3. Consumer Information Catalog — Presents a listing of consumer education resources.
  4. Get the Facts on Saving and Investing — Provides helpful tips and worksheets for calculating net worth, income and expenses.
  5. Insuring Your Deposits — Information about how FDIC insures deposit accounts at banks and savings associations.
  6. Money Smart — Learn about the FDIC’s financial education program for adults.
  7. Questions You Should Ask About Your Investments — Gives advice on questions to ask before investing.
  8. Social Security, Understanding the Benefits — Provides guidance for retirement, disability, survivor’s benefits, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income.

In June, the Financial Education and Literacy Commission, chaired by the U.S. Treasury Department, visited Boston for a discussion on successful financial education programs to improve homeownership.

“Homeownership is a journey, not a destination,” said Dan Iannicola Jr., the Treasury’s deputy assistant secretary for financial education.

“Good homeownership counseling services need to be available before, during and after the purchase transaction.”

The discussion focused on helping home buyers better understand the terms of their mortgages to help them stay in their homes.

Homeownership counseling can reduce 90-day mortgage delinquencies by 19 percent, according to a 2001 study.

Given the current condition of the credit markets, has the commission been effective?

The Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management thinks not. The Government Accountability Office reported to the subcommittee in April that, “The national strategy for financial literacy serves as a useful first step in focusing attention on financial literacy, but it is largely descriptive rather than strategic and lacks certain key characteristics that are desirable in a national strategy.”

Obviously, using a Web site as the primary tool for improving financial literacy implies that the persons needing assistance have Internet access. Though about 75 percent of people have Internet access, a closer demographic look discloses that those who would benefit most from the site don’t have access to the Web.

For example, an April 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services revealed that 78 percent of those with at least some college education had access, compared with 56 percent of high school graduates, and only 28 percent of those who had not completed high school. This reveals a nonsensical disconnection between strategy and implementation tactic.

The commission holds public meetings every four months. The last such meeting was held Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C. The next public meeting will be held in January 2008, also in Washington.

Maybe more of us should attend.

© C. Stephen Guyer for American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.