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					2008 JUMP$TART FINANCIAL LITERACY SURVEYS
      of High School Seniors and College Students



  A Narrated PowerPoint Presentation from the Press Conference
        At the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve
                 Washington, DC, April 9, 2008



                              by Lewis Mandell
               Professor of Finance and Managerial Economics
                             University at Buffalo
                                               Introduction

       The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy has been conducting national surveys of
high school seniors to measure their financial literacy biennially since the 1997-98 academic year. The
2008 survey is the 6th such survey. This year, completed questionnaires were received from 6,856 high
school seniors from 385 randomly-selected schools. Students took the standard 31-question test in classes
that were not related to business, economics or personal financial management during the winter of 2007-
08.
       During the same time frame, the Jump$tart Coalition also conducted its first financial literacy
survey of full-time undergraduate students at US colleges and universities. For logistical reasons, this
survey was drawn from a national panel by Survey Sampling International, was conducted online and
consisted of 1,030 respondents. However, the 31 standard Jump$tart financial literacy questions were
administered to both the high school seniors and college students identically, in both wording and
sequencing of questions, to facilitate comparisons.
       Funding for both surveys was received from the Merrill-Lynch Foundation.
                                            High School Results

        In 2008, high school seniors answered just 48.3 percent of the financial literacy questions
correctly. Figure 1, below, shows that while this was the lowest score recorded in the 6 surveys, scores
have been fluctuating around the 50 percent mark since 2000. Since the Jump$tart exam consists of
multiple choice questions with just 4 possible answers, pure chance would result in average scores of 25
percent meaning that the increment due to knowledge is very small.
        There are reasons to believe that the unusual economic environment in the period during which
this exam was administered may have contributed to the unusually low scores. Some of the standard
Jump$tart questions test an understanding of long-term relationships between risk and return which would
favor equities over savings accounts for long holding periods. Others probe for an understanding that a
home financed with a fixed-rate mortgage tends to be a good investment in periods of unanticipated
inflation. However, recent steep declines in both the equities and housing markets may well have colored
the responses of the students, accounting for the decline in scores in 2008. Therefore, a more reliable
conclusion may be that financial literacy is still very low among high school seniors.
        The highest mean financial literacy score, 57 percent, was reached in the 1997-98 academic year
(called “1997” on Figure 1). This fell to 51.9 percent in 2000, then again to 50.2 percent in 2002. It
recovered slightly to 52.3 percent in 2004 and 52.4 percent in 2006 before falling to 48.3 percent this
year.


                   2008 Financial Literacy Survey
                           High School Performance Trend
                    100
                                                                       %



                                                                                  %




                     80
                                                  %
                                        %




                                                            %



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                    www.jumpstart.org
Figure 1
Financial Literacy by Family Income
       Financial literacy among young Americans is not only low, it is also poorly distributed by family
income and by factors related to family resources, such as race and parents’ education. Figure 2 shows
that financial literacy scores are strongly and monotonically (directly) related to family income. Students
in the highest family income category, over $80,000 per year, had average scores of 52.3 percent. This
contrasts strongly with the scores of students from the lowest income families who averaged just 43.4
percent.
       This monotonic relationship was not always the case. In the first 2 surveys, students in the highest
family income groups had lower average financial literacy scores than did students in the next highest
income group. At the time, we attributed this discontinuity to the likely fact that the wealthiest students
were college-bound and shielded from their families from having to make their own financial choices.
       Beginning in 2002, however, the relationship between family income and financial literacy
strengthened and those with the highest income have always outperformed those with lower incomes. We
now think that parents with the highest incomes, who are also the best-educated, are likely to be early
adopters of the need to have their children financially literate. This may result in their putting pressure on
their children’s’ schools to offer coursework relating to financial management or it may result in their
actions and communications at home.


                   2008 Financial Literacy Survey
                   High School Performance by Family Income
                     100
                                                                                %
                                                                                .3



                                                                                         %
                                                                  %


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                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 2
Financial Literacy by Race
       Figure 3 shows that financial literacy is closely related to race or ethnicity. While White or
Caucasian students averaged 52.5 percent on the financial literacy test, Black or African-American
students averaged only 41.3 percent, Hispanic students 45.1 percent and Native-American students just
37.7 percent.
       These dramatic differences understate the true magnitude of the problem since we surveyed only
high school seniors in the middle of their last year and know that many students of color never made it
this far in school and were therefore, not included in the survey. In many urban areas of the US, fewer
than half of African-American males graduate from high school and it is not unreasonable to assume that
those who left school before their senior years are less financially literate than those who are completing
high school. Therefore, the financial literacy of all African-Americans who are 17-19 years old is
probably even lower than 41.3 percent.
       Since financial literacy measures one’s ability to utilize available resources efficiently, the
relationship between financial literacy, race and income combine to further exacerbate differences in
standards of living which are the product of financial resources and financial literacy.



                    2008 Financial Literacy Survey
                   High School Performance by Ethnic Group
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                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 3
Some Examples
       Figure 4 illustrates one of the standard Jump$tart questions designed to test a student’s knowledge
of the advantages of having fixed-rate debt during periods of unanticipated inflation. In 2008, just 35.8
percent of students felt that a house financed with a fixed-rate mortgage would better protect the
purchasing power of a family’s savings in the event of a sudden increase in inflation than a bond or a
certificate of deposit. This was down from 44.6 percent in 2006.
       However, as mentioned above, normal economic relationships become distorted in unusual
economic times. Students may feel that recent increases in food and energy prices constitute a “sudden
increase in inflation” and may also observe that home prices, including those financed with conventional
fixed-rate mortgages are falling, thereby seeming to invalidate a “normal” economic relationship. This
may account for some of the decline in scores in the 2008 survey.




                   2008 High School Survey
                         Inflation and Fixed-Rate Mortgage
                    Which of the following types of investments would best
                    protect the purchasing power of a family’s savings in the
                    event of a sudden increase in inflation?
                     19.2% a) A 10-year bond issued by a corporation
                     26.2% b) A certificate of deposit at a bank
                     17.4% c) A twenty-five year corporate bond
                    *35.8% d) A house financed with a fixed-rate mortgage
                             * Correct Answer


                             Down from 44.6% in 2006
                      Students who picked each answer.


                    www.jumpstart.org
Figure 4
Understanding Credit Cards
       Students also fell in their ability to recognize the most dangerous aspects of credit cards. In 2008,
fewer than half of the students realized that credit card users who pay only the minimum amount each
month run up the highest finance charges (Figure 5). This proportion was 70.6 percent in 2006 and had
never fallen below 60 percent in all the years of the survey.
       We can only speculate as to why scores on this question fell so drastically. It may be due to
frequent changes in rates and conditions offered by lenders in recent years or to the difficulty that many
borrowers have in understanding just how finance charges are calculated. However, the implications of
this growing lack of consumer understanding can only accentuate the problems that credit card lenders are
having in collecting their receivables, causing many economists to predict that credit cards will follow
sub-prime mortgages as a source of macroeconomic difficulties.


                    2008 High School Survey
                            Understanding Credit Cards
                     Which of the following credit card users is likely to pay the
                     GREATEST dollar amount in finance charges per year, if
                     they all charge the same amount per year on their cards?

                      16.8% a) Jessica, who pays at least the minimum each
                               month and more when she has the money
                      17.1% b) Vera, who generally pays off her card in full
                      18.2% c) Megan who always pays her card in full
                     *48.0% d) Erin, who only pays the minimum each month
                             * Correct Answer
                             Down from 70.6% in 2006
                      Students who picked each answer.


                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 5
Other Observations from the High School Survey
       Figure 6 contains a few other observations from the high school survey. Just 27.3 percent realized
that interest on savings accounts could be taxed if incomes were high enough. While this may be
alarming, it is important to place it within the context of scores from other survey years. In fact, aside
from 1997 when 32.6 percent answered this question correctly, the score of 27.3 percent in 2008 was the
highest score recorded on this question. By and large, students have a poor understanding of our tax
system.
       Only 40.4 percent of students realized that they could lose their health insurance benefits if their
parents became unemployed. However, this score was typical of responses received over the years.
       Finally, 47.7 percent of students knew that a relatively new law allowed them to check their credit
rating for free once a year. This was slightly higher in 2006, when the law was first implemented
nationwide.


                    2008 High School Survey
                            What they know/or don’t…

                       27.3% understand that interest on their savings
                       accounts could be taxable.

                       40.4% realize they could lose their health insurance
                       if their parents become unemployed

                       47.7% know that the law allows them to check
                       their credit rating for free once a year




                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 6
Is Financial Literacy a Proxy for Intellectual Ability?
       While discussing a recent paper of mine, Professor Shawn Cole of Harvard suggested that what
we measure as financial literacy may, in fact, be a proxy for overall intelligence, academic ability or the
ability to solve problems. He asked whether we had run financial literacy scores by measures of
intelligence such as IQ or college entrance exam scores and, we had not. Therefore, for the 2008 survey a
question was added about the student’s score on the ACT or SAT exam.
       Figure 7 shows the relationship between financial literacy and ACT scores. Those with ACT
scores below 20 scored an average of 43.3 percent on the financial literacy questions, while those with
ACT scores of 21-26 scored 51.3 percent and those with ACT scores of 27 or more scored 58.8 percent.
These results powerfully support Professor Cole’s hypothesis and we will see additional confirming
evidence from the 2008 college survey results.


                        2008 High School Survey
                       High School Performance by ACT Score

                     100



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                                                               %



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                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 7
                                                 College Results
       The most startling results from the first Jump$tart college survey of financial literacy is that full-
time college students are much more financially literate than high school seniors and that financial
literacy improves monotonically with years of education.
       Figure 8 shows that while high school seniors averaged just 48.3 percent on the survey; college
freshmen averaged 59.3 percent, sophomores 61 percent, juniors 62.1 percent and seniors 64.8 percent.
This adds additional confirmation that financial literacy seems to be strongly related to academic ability.
       The good news is that not all young Americans are financially illiterate. Those finishing college,
with average scores of 64.8 percent, are on the verge of financial literacy. We can probably assume that
with additional exposure to financial decisions, their financial literacy will continue to improve. They do
not appear to be the problem.
       The bad news is that only 27 percent of American adults are college graduates. This means that
the majority of American adults probably have less financial literacy than those who are able to graduate
from a 4-year college. And since education and income are highly correlated, we see once again that
those with the financial resources are also more likely to be able to use those resources effectively, further
differentiating between the “haves” and “have-nots.”
       And while not assigning all the blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis to those less-affluent
consumers who took out poorly-considered debt obligations, it is not entirely coincidental that brunt of
the problem fell on sub-prime borrowers who were also, likely, less financially literate than prime
borrowers.

                    2008 Financial Literacy Survey
                      High School and College Performance
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                    www.jumpstart.org
Figure 8
Financial Literacy of College Students by Race
       While college students, taken together, are much more financially literate than high school seniors,
many the same racial differences among high school seniors also appear among college students. Figure
9 shows that White college students have average scores of 63.3 percent while Blacks have average scores
of 55.3 percent. This implies that differences in financial literacy are due to more than just education.
We hope that additional analysis of the data will shed some more light on this troubling problem.


                    2008 Financial Literacy Survey
                       College Performance by Ethnic Group
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                     www.jumpstart.org
Figure 9
                                            Summary
Figure 10 summarizes the 2008 Jump$tart surveys.
         The financial literacy of high school students in 2008 was the lowest measured since the
          surveys began in 1997. The approximately 4 percentage point fall since 2006 may have
          been accentuated by the unusual economic times during which the 2008 survey was
          conducted including falls in equity and home values and an apparent increase in inflation.
         College students are much more financially literate than seniors in high school and literacy
          increases with additional years of college education.
         Financial literacy relates to academic qualifications, whether they are measured by college
          entrance scores or by years of higher education. However, the financial literacy scores of
          both high school seniors and college students appear to be unaffected by having taken a
          full-semester course in personal finance in high school. On the other hand, the financial
          literacy scores of both groups is positively and significantly raised by having played a
          stock market game. This implies that full-semester courses in financial management, as
          currently taught, are just not “sticky” in that students soon forget what they have learned.
          Courses that are interactive as well as those that relate to real-life events, involve problem
          solving and are “fun” may be the key to improving financial literacy.
         The financial literacy of young Americans is not only low; it is also poorly distributed,
          with those of financial means having much higher average scores.

                                          2008 Jump$tart Surveys
                                                            Summary
                                Financial literacy scores of high school seniors have
                                fallen. This may be due in part to unusual economic
                                events.
                                College students are much more financially literate than
                                high school seniors and literacy increases with more years
                                of education.
                                Financial literacy relates much more strongly to academic
                                qualifications and achievement than to courses in financial
                                management.
                                Differences in financial literacy by race and income show
                                significant inequality, suggesting the need to consider
                                alternative approaches.
                                www.jumpstart.org
         Figure 10

				
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