When Butte resident Mike Paffhausen graduated from Carroll College in 2009, he received a thin, purple school book that he says changed his life. It was called “Life After Graduation: Your Guide to Success”.
Paffhausen then made a to-do list on a few blank pages at the back of the book, filled with items the book recommended. The list spanned a page, plus a few, and included items such as “buy life insurance”, “create a budget” and “make a will”.
Today, he still has the book and has crossed off every item on the list within the first two years of reading it.
The book and the lessons learned from it were pivotal in Paffhausen’s life, he said, and after that he became determined to have other young adults benefit from those lessons.
“Finances are like sex, religion and politics,” Paffhausen said. “We don’t talk about it at the table anymore; it’s inappropriate and taboo, and it shouldn’t be. And that’s really inappropriate in those families where they’re not good at money. So we perpetuate poverty.
Paffhausen’s many efforts to improve financial literacy in the community include working with Carroll, local high schools, through his church, and even fundraising to continue buying books for future seniors.
In the summer of last year, he told the board of directors of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors of Montana, of which he is a member, his goal of getting guaranteed personal finance courses for every high school student in Montana. Paffhausen and other proponents refer to it as guaranteed rather than required — like all high schools, students are guaranteed a financial literacy course.
Paffhausen has connected with Next Gen Personal Finance, a nonprofit that he says has worked with him and the NAIFA MT board for almost the entire year to make their goal a reality. Paffhausen was introduced to Carly Urban, an economist with a Ph.D. in economics and associate professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, via Next Gen.
In October 2021, Paffhausen spoke at the Montana Association of Business Professionals of America’s Fall Leadership Conference as part of NAIFA MT. Paffhausen said he spoke at a roundtable with teachers about the organization of guaranteed financial literacy classes in high schools in Montana, and they were all “resoundingly supportive,” which he said. urged him and the NAIFA MT Board to continue.
He became president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors Montana in January.
On Tuesday, Urban, who is a senior researcher in the field, presented her findings on guaranteed personal finance classes in schools at the 2022 NAIFA MT State Convention at the Fairmont Hot Springs Conference Center near Anaconda, where NAIFA MT members who were not on the board were present.
About Literacy Classes
The idea behind financial literacy in schools is that high school graduates have to make many very important financial decisions when they graduate and should educate themselves about money before they start doing so.
The case for financial literacy, Urban said during his presentation, is in his favorite thing: data. According to his research, only 27% of 23-28 year olds can correctly answer three basic questions about interest, inflation and diversification.
“And when I say basic questions, I mean, ‘You have $100 today, the interest rate is 2%, how much money will you have next year? Will you have more than $100, exactly $100 or you don’t really know? Said Urban.
She said her research also revealed that 54% of student borrowers did not calculate their future monthly payments before choosing a loan and, one statistic she found very telling: 38% of 18-34 year olds said they had used alternative financial solutions. services, such as payday loans, over the past five years.
Urban called these alternative financial services a “debt trap for young people”.
“If you want to make sure you can never start a small business as a young adult, or in your life, start the payday cycle,” she said.
When his research looked at states that guaranteed financial literacy courses as a condition of graduation, it showed that the first class had no change in credit scores by age 23 and had a decrease 1.4% of unpaid bills over 90 days. The second cohort achieved a 16 point improvement in credit score and a 3.4% decrease in delinquency over 90 days, and the third cohort experienced a 32 point increase in credit score and a decrease in 5.8% of delinquency over 90 days according to age. 23. Urban called the results of the third cohort of high school students “enormous.”
His research also shows that people want financial literacy courses in schools, with 88% of respondents to a 2022 survey saying high school students should be required to take a semester or year-long course on financial literacy. personal finances.
Student loan repayment rates for first-generation and low-income students and the shift from high-cost to low-cost borrowing methods have also increased with guaranteed financial literacy courses, and payday loans have declined. Students who had guaranteed financial literacy courses in high school were also 21% less likely to have a credit card balance. Moreover, his research found that students from low-income families were helped the most by this requirement.
However, Urban said, there is no evidence that guaranteed financial literacy courses increase the likelihood of opening a retirement account, non-retirement savings account or owning a home.
She said it’s because at 16, 17, and 18, most students think about what’s going on right now, like car loans and student loans, and they’re not ready to think yet. retired or owning a home.
The guaranteed personal finance courses also do not change graduation rates, college attendance rates, college completion rates, income, or work location.
According to Urban’s presentation, eight states across the country are guaranteeing financial literacy classes to every high school student, and five more are in the early stages of implementation.
The reason these courses should be required instead of optional, Urban said, is because research shows that making it optional makes no difference to students’ future credit scores, borrowing habits, and more. or delinquency rates.
Paffhausen said that in addition to the other sought-after benefits of guaranteed financial literacy classes, it’s a non-partisan cause that everyone he’s spoken to supports.
State of courses in Montana
Eight schools in Montana currently require financial literacy to be taught, including Absarokee High School, Anaconda Sr. High School, Box Elder High School, Hamilton High School, Polson High School, St. Ignatius High School, Sweet Grass County High School, and Victor High school, according to Urban’s presentation.
About three weeks ago, Paffhausen said, the efforts he and the NAIFA MT board put in paid off. Paffhausen and Urban were able to meet Elsie Arntzen, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Montana, and found her a home for their cause.
According to documents from the Montana Office of Public Instruction, updated Montana Administrative Rules Chapters 55, 57, and 58, which include guaranteed financial literacy classes for high school students, would go into effect in January 2023. they were adopted.
Currently four units of English Language Arts, three units of Mathematics, three units of Science, three units of Social Studies, two units of Career and Technical Education, two units of Arts, one health, two units of world languages and two units of electives.
Proposed rule changes include adding a required half-credit of civics or government education in all three social studies units and adding a required half-credit of economics and financial education in all three social studies units or both vocational and technical study units. education, according to OPI documents.
Urban’s research shows that social studies is actually the best course for implementing financial literacy, not math, as some people might think.
There will be challenges, said Paffhausen, and these will mostly be “strategic and tactical issues” of course implementation, such as training existing teachers to teach personal finance and finding space for new content in the secondary program.
According to research on required personal finance courses in Peru, course teachers also benefit. The instructors involved in the Peru study saw their savings increase after teaching the class because they, too, learned about personal finance in a more fun and digestible way than personal finance is sometimes explained to adults.
The cost to schools can also be free, Urban said, with Next Gen Personal Finance offering free, high-quality teacher training and certification, as well as a free curriculum.
Arntzen also said she will make personal finance units available as part of the 60 units teachers must complete every five years to maintain an active teaching license.
Paffhausen said NAIFA MT is the right organization to champion this cause. “Which organization is best suited to bring this conversation to the fore? ” he said. “Everyone in this room has had clients in front of us who we wish we had had a better start and had a simple, fundamental education about how money works.”
And although NAIFA MT is an advocacy organization, Paffhausen said promoting guaranteed personal finance courses does not directly benefit them.
“Society doesn’t know who NAIFA Montana is and never will,” he said. “We have no discernible earnings advantage in this area.”
As for his own children, he said, they will learn financial literacy anyway. But he said he believed in this cause for all the other kids who might not, and ultimately because it’s a good thing to do.