As millions of high school seniors mark the graduation milestone this month, many lack the skills necessary to successfully manage their finances, partly due to the lack of financial classes in schools. In fact, only 4 states require students to take a semester of personal finance education and another 20 states mandate finance to be included into other classes, according to the JumpStart Coalition. Whether students plan to enter college or the workforce after high school, financial knowledge is a must.
As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, Capital One's annual survey reveals insight on the state of financial literacy among graduating high school seniors. In this year's survey (I was quoted in the news release), about 40% of high school seniors do not feel comfortable managing their money. Since personal finance is absent from most schools, it is important for parents to talk about money with their children. Here is a three-step action plan for families to ensure their college-aged child is prepared for financial life in college and adulthood:
1. Bank Accounts: Sounds simple, right? But since 17 million Americans do not have a bank account, rest assured most students don't have one either. Nonetheless, savings and checking accounts are critical for financial security. With a checking account, you'll also gain experience using a debit card, withdrawing money from an ATM and learning how to write checks. The Capital One survey revealed that 75% of this year's high school graduates will receive graduation gift money, which should be deposited into savings.
Additionally, be sure to automate your savings. If you have a job, as you deposit the paycheck into your checking account, ask the bank to automatically transfer a certain amount of money from your checking account into your savings account. This will force you to make do with less while increasing your savings at the same time.
2. Credit Cards: It is very tempting to use the credit card as a blank check and rack up thousands of dollars on frivolous items. Open up a credit card to start building credit history. Use Bankrate.com to find student credit cards or secured credit cards. It is crucial that you pay your bills on time to avoid late fees and damage to your credit score. Use the card for small purchases only, under $50 per month.
3. Track Your Expenses: How can you save money if you don't know how much you spend each month? Use the iXpenseIt iPhone app, which enables you to take a picture of the receipt after making a purchase in the store -- the app will store that data allowing you to easily keep track of your spending. Also, use HelpSaveMyDollars.com's free Expense Calculator, which will determine how much money you save each month.
Scott Gamm is a student at NYU's Stern School of Business and founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC's TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS. Follow Scott on Facebook.