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A recent survey published by Standard & Poor’s Rating Services found that two in three adults worldwide, about 3.4 billion, are considered financially illiterate.

Wow. That’s a big number. The good news is that 57% of American adults are a little more financially literate. Still, there appears to be a major education gap when it comes to saving and borrowing. Among the survey topics of risk and diversification, inflation, interest, and compound interest, the least understood topic among Americans was interest, even though we have some of the highest credit card usage and student loan debt in the world.

Financially literacy (or illiteracy) comes in more than one form. Most of us will agree that our schools do a poor job of teaching practical skills like budgeting and balancing a checking account and that the majority of financial institutions do not even reinforce the basics when they have the consumer’s attention.

What is alarming appears to be individuals in denial about their spending habits. This phenomenon came to the forefront in 2007 when homeowners were using their homes as their personal ATM by spending the home’s equity on big-screen TVs and expensive vacations. Unfortunately, this method of financing a household is being recycled today, especially in Northern California which is reliving the 2007 overheating of the real estate market.

American households lost $16 trillion in net worth, most of it from home equity, from its peak in early 2007 to the nadir of the Great Recession in early 2009. $8 trillion has been recovered, which leaves a net $8 trillion that is gone, probably forever. Economists lay the blame at the feet of many entities and even some corporate CEOs, but Americans’ financial illiteracy is also a factor.

My wife is currently training to be a volunteer docent at a local museum. She is finding it is hard work to learn what is required for her new position. Learning some financial basics is hard work and can be painful at times. However, it can help consumers navigate through the sometimes complex world of finance and avoid the mistakes many individuals made before the recession.

Credit unions were originally created in part to educate people of modest means about making smarter financial decisions. In order to fulfill our mission, your Credit Union will be sponsoring a series of financial literacy workshops targeted to specific age groups, presenting a far-reaching array of topics. If you have any ideas for topics you would like to hear, please contact me, and we’ll include them. I urge all members to take advantage of these free workshops, free credit counseling with a member of our senior staff, or just a phone call for a few minutes of free advice. Of course, that’s the easy part. The hard part is making the sacrifices necessary to be financially successful. I wish for that outcome for 2016 and beyond.

David M. Green
(925) 335-3802