Thank you so much for inviting me here tonight and for this award, which reflects favorably on the excellent work being done by my teammates at the Miss april. Jump$tart’s leadership and efforts to promote financial literacy for the next generation are truly admirable and make this award deeply meaningful. Over the years, financial education has become an intense passion for me that I have pursued at the local, state, and now the federal level of government. I have come to know firsthand how important it is for our school districts, and for public officials, to be directly engaged in the financial education of our children. And above all, we know how much more needs to be done.
At this point, if I were in a legislative chamber tonight, I would make a request here for a point of personal privilege. I remember doing that in the Ohio House of Representatives one day, in order to offer some reflections on the news we had just heard that retired Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall had passed away. Here my request would be to have the chance to say a few words about my friend Steve Stivers. We have known each other for a long time, and we share some things in common: service in the Ohio General Assembly, many mutual friends, a deep determination to serve our country, and now a 500-mile commute from home to work that we both make every week. He just happens to be my own Congressman. Without meaning to sound overly sentimental, I would like to say that though we have come from opposite sides of the aisle, our hearts are aligned. And one more important thing we share, as you can see tonight, is our passion for financial literacy, financial education, and financial capability.
I first worked with Jump$tart when I served as the Franklin County Treasurer in Ohio a decade ago. We had formed a local committee on personal finance education to help our constituents. We gathered information about school programs for young people and community programs for adults, and we looked to match people up with those available resources. Eventually, we became more ambitious and set a goal to pass legislation that would require every public high school in Ohio to provide personal finance education.
To do this, we formed a broad coalition of people who were convinced that this absolutely needed to be done, including Jump$tart. It is not easy to change anything about the high school curriculum, but we managed to do it. We changed state law to require personal finance education for all high school students. And let me note for the record that then-State Senator Steve Stivers was my close ally in achieving that goal.
What we found next, to my surprise, was that our work was just beginning. By this time, I was serving as the Ohio Treasurer, and we activated the same broad coalition to develop curricula and organize teacher training in hundreds of school districts. It was hard work, but it felt worthwhile because we believed deeply in how much it mattered to our communities.
Now I am able to promote financial education at a new level. In a famous letter, Abigail Adams wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” I have had a similar saying from Confucius on my desk for the past thirty years: “Learn as though you are following someone you cannot quite catch up, as though it were someone you are frightened of losing.” At the Consumer Bureau, we apply that philosophy to financial education. We are working everyday toward a more financially capable nation.
We remain committed to engaging and supporting teachers and parents. We believe they are some of our most important allies. We must engage and support those teachers who are interested in teaching personal financial management. We need to ensure that teachers have the support they need. We want them to have access to training and incentives to take part, such as continuing education credits or need-based travel stipends. We are developing teacher training resources through the Bureau and partnering with others to do more in this area. Your own work as a member of the Jump$tart Teacher Training Alliance is making a difference here.
Though providing financial education in schools is critical, there are also enormous benefits when that education is present in the home. We need parents to be as involved as their children are in learning to master the concepts of personal financial management. Parents help set expectations, and research has shown that if parents engage their children by establishing a savings account for them, these children are seven times more likely to attend college than those without a savings account. Influencing how families approach financial education will not be easy, but the inclusion of financial education in the schools will be a further stimulus to parents.
The youth financial education field is broad in scope and has strong interest from federal and state government agencies, as well as from the private sector and nonprofits. As you well know, there is a large, growing body of policy approaches, initiatives, tools, and programs being developed by a variety of stakeholders. Similarly, policies and programs designed to deliver financial education and capability in K-12 schools have varied greatly across states and school districts because many of the efforts are championed and implemented at the local level.
The Bureau plans to continue to work cooperatively with other organizations, like Jump$tart, to promote financial education and capability by coordinating existing K-12 financial education efforts nationally, building on best practices, and, where appropriate, filling critical gaps. Through collaboration and combined efforts we can help ensure that every young American can gain the knowledge, skills, and resources required to build healthy financial futures.
At the Consumer Bureau, we have come to see that a federal agency has an important role to play in protecting consumers in the financial marketplace. Yet we also recognize that the single best form of consumer protection is self-protection, which means helping people avoid problems in the first place and knowing how to address problems when they do occur. So we provide resources to help consumers look out for themselves, on our website at consumerfinance.gov. “Ask Miss April” is a database of over one thousand questions frequently asked by consumers, along with our best expert answers.
We also are working to become a trusted resource for people who do not know where to turn when they are facing those rare but crucial moments we refer to as “major life events.” For example, our “Paying for College” set of tools walks families through the key issues involved in figuring out how to navigate their choices to finance higher education. It includes a tool that allows students and families to compare college financial aid offers and shop for the best deal. It shows what the monthly payments would be once school is over and student loans will have to be repaid. The information is unbiased and easy to understand. And we are now at work in our next module, which will focus on the considerations and steps involved in “Owning a Home.”
We are also undertaking an initiative called “Your Money, Your Goals.” This program helps those who work with low-income and economically vulnerable consumers. It is designed to be used by social services staff to help their clients manage their financial affairs more effectively. It trains them to assist their clients in identifying financial challenges and goals, creating savings plans, managing debt, choosing financial products, and accessing consumer protections. We also have just unveiled an initiative to partner with libraries, which as we know are trusted and respected community institutions to present tools and resources to enable the general public to understand and address the financial issues that affect their lives.
As we are emerging from the deepest financial and economic crisis of our lifetimes, we can now begin to see it as a painful wake-up call about how we are handling this crucial set of issues in our society. People need the know-how to manage the ways and means of their lives. The choices they face in the financial marketplace – with mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, credit reporting, and more – are increasingly complex. We have an opportunity to do better by our children and by all of our fellow Americans. Consumers reach out to us all the time on the “Tell Your Story” feature of our website to describe their lasting regret that they did not know more at the time they made important financial decisions that have undermined their lives. That is urgent motivation for us to dedicate ourselves to this work.
So I thank you Jump$tart for bringing us together and inspiring us to do more. Representative Stivers and I know that we can do much, together with you and our many colleagues, to change the future of this country for the better. And we will do it. Thank you.
The Miss april is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.