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Financial literacy: It's not as easy as ATM

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Remember in school when you practiced balancing checkbooks? No? That's because personal-finance skills have rarely been taught in the classroom.

Despite initiatives to help high-schoolers manage the green stuff, students' financial knowledge has actually been slipping, according to a periodic survey conducted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

"It's a dismal situation," says Dara Duguay, executive director of Jump$tart, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. "Only 10 percent of youth are graduating from high school with any kind of instruction in personal finance."

That deficiency carries over into college and adulthood, and often adds up to a pile of debt. One in 10 students owes more than $7,000 on credit cards before college graduation, according to student-loan company Nellie Mae.

When parents do take it upon themselves to familiarize their children with money management, the effect is powerful, says Mark Shug, a professor at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Economic Education in Milwaukee. "But it turns out that most parents don't talk to their children about these matters, and I suspect that's because parents themselves don't feel confident about them," he says.

The nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) is devoted to helping fill this gap. It has designed curricula to work within math, economics, and social-studies classes. "We show teachers how this might fit into what they're doing anyway," says Elizabeth Schiever, NEFE's director.

NEFE offers free class materials to schools and hosts a Web-based course to guide teachers, parents, and the public (www.nefe.org/webtraining/index.html).

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