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09/28/2016 12:41 pm ET

Why Teaching Financial Literacy to Seminarians Makes Sense

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Financial literacy skills are a key to economic health, yet too few Americans have even a basic knowledge of how to manage their personal finances. This is especially true among African-Americans, Hispanics, women, millennials, and individuals without a high-school education.

According to a financial capability study by FINRA Investor Education Foundation, only 46% of Americans have emergency funds and only 39% have tackled retirement savings needs. The survey also reflects that African-Americans are more likely to use non-bank borrowing, such as payday lenders and pawn shops, than other ethnic groups. The study states that nearly half of all respondents with a high school education or less could not come up with $2,000 in 30 days in the event of an emergency.

Americans want to live a comfortable life at each stage of their lives, regardless of race, gender, age, or education level. But whether we are young, middle aged or seniors, we must learn financial knowledge and tools for economic success. A lack of financial understanding can be a serious roadblock to a healthy financial life and has a negative impact on our economy and our citizens, including those who are most vulnerable.

Americans often wait until it is too late or when a financial crisis occurs before they seek help for financial problems. This is especially true in underserved populations, who have limited access to financial education training and resources.

But there is good news. Higher education institutions committed to teaching financial literacy are making tremendous difference by including such education at the undergraduate and post-graduate education levels.

This fall I am teaching financial literacy to divinity students, pastors and ministers at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C. The class is structured to increase the financial and stewardship knowledge of the participants by teaching them practical money management concepts and skills. The program is designed to train religious leaders who will be able not only to use their own financial resources wisely, but also to teach financial literacy in their communities and places of worship. They will also be better informed to make leadership decisions regarding the facilities and finances of their congregations.

Enhancing the financial literacy of religious leaders and instructing them with the “Each One, Teach One” curriculum training model to implement in their own faith communities is a powerful tool to reach African Americans and others who would not otherwise have access to this knowledge. This education model also has the strong potential to impact thousands of individuals in African-American communities and elsewhere.

Imagine if financial literacy courses were a mandatory requirement at all divinity schools across the nation, and if churches and places of worship made a promise to host financial literacy trainings for their communities each year.

In nearly 20 years of running an education nonprofit organization dedicated to financial education, I have discovered that people want to learn personal money management concepts and their applications. Financial knowledge and skills of these kind help individuals make smart decisions so that are able to maximize financial resources and achieve their personal and financial goals.

The financial topics that I teach at Howard University, which focus on practical issues relevant to faith-based groups, include:

• Personal Financial Planning for Ministers and Pastors
• Credit and Debt Management
• Maximizing Financial Blessings through Investing

Thus far, the feedback from divinity students who have taken the “Personal Financial Planning for Ministers and Pastors” course has been positive and participants are eager to share what they have learned with their congregations.

Innovative and comprehensive programs to teach divinity students financial literacy, so they can in turn instruct their church members about useful financial concepts that can be applied in everyday life, can be a real lifeline for African America communities and other groups.

I urge other divinity and theology schools to expand their offerings to include financial literacy instructions in their curriculum and offer subject specific seminars and workshops to enable ministers and pastors to empower their congregations to become fiscally healthy. This can also play a key role in the financial sustainability of the churches they serve. We don’t have a moment to lose if our goal is growing healthy and robust communities and providing tools for all our citizens to have a chance to improve their financial well being.

The 9th Annual Financial Literacy Leadership Conference will be held on October 17-18, 2016 at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center. Click here for more information and to register.

Access Your Potential is a new blog series focused on exploring the importance of developing technology skills and financial acumen in minority communities. Join the conversation by emailing PurposePlusProfit@huffingtonpost.com or by tweeting with #AccessYourPotential.

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