All Americans should know these financial lessons before leaving high school

Learning how to effectively manage money can make a huge difference in high schoolers’ lives. If not immediately, then certainly later on in life.

But they don’t often get the lessons they need. Not in school, and not at home, as one high school student wrote on Reddit this week. In her post, she said she wasn’t sure what to do with whatever money she gets, and is often inclined to spend it.

She said she simply didn’t know where she could learn about money management, and that her parents can’t teach her the basics because they aren’t good with money themselves. “They live paycheck to paycheck and spend money recklessly,” she wrote. “I know this because I have compared my parents’ habits to those of people who are a bit better off.”

See: If our grandparents learned personal finance in school, why can’t our kids?

U.S. schools rarely incorporate personal finance into their curriculum. Only 16.4% of the 13 million high school students across the country in 2017 were required to take a personal-finance course to graduate, according to Next Gen Personal Finance. When the five states that mandate a personal finance course are eliminated, that figure drops to 8.6%.

That means kids are sometimes left to learn their money lessons at home, though that doesn’t always pan out well. A 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found parents were “critical” in forming their children’s financial literacy. But when parents have bad money habits, they pass those habits on to their children too, according to a study from asset management firm T. Rowe Price.

“I like to remind people (young or old) that when it comes to learning from your parents, don’t be upset with what they didn’t teach you,” said Jacqueline Schadeck, a financial adviser at Tailored Wealth Management in Atlanta. “Often times, they didn’t learn the lesson themselves.”

Reddit users responded to the student with some advice. MarketWatch also reached out to financial advisers. Here’s what they had to say:

Always save, but know how to invest too

Saving is a great habit, but it may make sense for people to begin investing their money sooner rather than later.

Millennials are notorious for being weak investors, possibly because they grew up during the Great Recession and saw how the plunge in the stock market negatively affected their loved ones. About 42% of millennials invest conservatively, compared with 38% of Generation X investors and 23% of baby boomers, according to a 2018 Fidelity Investments study.

Much more than half (66%) of people aged 17 to 29 years old (and 65% of those 30 to 39 years old) said investing in the stock market is scary or intimidating, compared to 58% of respondents aged 40 to 54 and 57% of people 55 and older, an Ally Financial survey found.

The problem with this? They’re missing out on potential returns. Investing introduces the power of compound interest, which is the growth of interest upon interest and principle. Mark Wilson, a financial adviser at Mile Wealth in Irvine, Calif., said he showed his son an example of two brothers who saved $2,000 annually — one who started when he was 20 years old and the other when he was 30 — and the difference in ending account balances was enormous, he said. If they earned 8% annually, the brother who started at 20 would have almost $868,000 at age 65 compared to his brother, who would have almost $402,000.

Understand your student loan options and the impact those decisions will have

The average college student graduates with almost $28,000 in student loans, and student debt across the country just hit $1.5 trillion. High school students headed to college often don’t understand the impact their decisions on various loans (or the chosen college’s price tag) have on their futures, and surveys often find student loan borrowers tend to regret their borrowing decisions after leaving school.

Students should consider a few factors before choosing how much money they borrow. They include how much they earn after graduation, the interest rate on their loans, how that interest will accrue over time — will it be during their college years or only after graduation? — and what their repayment plans might look like. They should also consider if they’ll be graduating early or need more than four years, and how their major might affect these decisions.

Most student borrowers are in a 10-year repayment plan, but not every borrower can afford to keep up those with those payments (which may be $300 or more every month). Some graduates aren’t earning enough to pay off their student loans in a timely fashion while also paying for other necessities (like rent, food and utilities). Others may face unexpected financial emergencies. There are numerous repayment plans students can opt into to pay off their loans.

Student loans can affect graduates for years, if not decades, after they flip their tassel. Student debt is the reason why some people delay marriage, having kids, buying homes or saving for retirement.

Don’t miss: Should I pay off student debt before saving for retirement? Not exactly

Know how credit scores work — it will save you money later on

Credit scores help people accomplish various tasks in life such as buying a car or a home, or getting a better credit card, said Ashley Foster, a financial adviser at Nxt: Gen Financial Planning in Houston, Texas. Sometimes high schoolers may mistake a debit card for a credit card, or believe myths about credit-card payments, such as the idea that not paying off a balance in full at the end of the month builds a better score.

High schoolers should know that a late payment could trigger a fee and lower your credit score. Grace periods for a late payment aren’t that nice: if you have 18 months to pay something off without interest, don’t go over that 18 months if at all possible. Minimum payments won’t help you if you’re racking up the debt; and no-limit credit cards still have limits. (You can find more tips on credit cards here.)

Don’t scoff at minimum wage, especially if it helps build your career

Even a low-paid job can have a big impact on your career, especially if it’s in your chosen profession, one Reddit user wrote, and suggested that a job that pays $10 an hour can lead to a $100,000 salary in the long run, perhaps more so than a job that pays $15 an hour up-front. “Understanding that trade-off will help you think more strategically as you look for ways to make money,” he wrote.

Other perks to a job with prospects that students should consider include the availability of mentors and role models, as well as managers who respond to strong initiative and nurture a growth-oriented mindset.

There are caveats to this advice, another person pointed out. When picking jobs, people should also think about a work-life balance. Welders, for example, make “incredible money,” he said, but they sometimes work on oil rigs and may not see their families for weeks or months, as well as suffer from overall wear and tear on the body.

Also see: 7 money moves smart graduates make in their first year after college

Be aware of who has access to your money, even if it’s family

Reddit users warned the high school student to be wary of those she lives with, even her parents. Some shared their own horror stories, about their parents using their identities upon turning 18 to open up credit cards and rack up major debts in their child’s name. One such victim said she was in $10,000 of credit-card debt as a result. “I never realized I was manipulated with my own credit cards,” she said. “Please consider my lesson a ‘learned’ lesson for yourself.”

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. MarketWatch readers have written to The Moneyist columnistsharing similar stories. One woman wasn’t sure if she should report her mother, who had spent thousands of dollars on credit cards in her name, to the police. The only way credit-card bureaus would remove this activity from her account was if she reported it as theft, which could lead to her mother facing a fine or community service. Even if people know their loved ones committed this crime, it may be hard to file that police report.

Don’t miss: My mother stole my identity and racked up $500,000 in debt

Don’t try to justify unnecessary purchases

“The best habit you can build right now is to plan your purchases weeks or months in advance, budget for them and save up for each,” one person wrote. “Training your brain to delay gratification and enjoy anticipating things will serve you well later on.”

Numerous studies back up the benefits of delayed gratification, most famously the Marshmallow Test, developed at Stanford University. In this experiment, each child was instructed to sit in a chair in a private room with a marshmallow placed in front of them. The researchers offered the children a deal: if when the researchers left the room, the child did not eat the marshmallow, they’d get a second marshmallow; and if they ate the marshmallow, they wouldn’t get another one.

Only a few children managed to hold out, but the researchers found by conducting follow-up studies that those who did ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse and obesity. They also managed their stress and had better social skills, their parents reported. (Researchers recently revisited the experiment and found evidence that those delayed gratification skills are linked to a child’s socioeconomic background.)

Still, this isn’t an easy habit to develop. “Many adults fall victim to the same issue,” said Matthew Gaffey, a senior wealth manager at Corbett Road Wealth Management in Potomac Falls, Va. Many people, young and old, experience “lifestyle creep,” where the amount of money they spend on their everyday lives continues to rise. “Having the ability to exercise discipline and delay gratification is a lesson that would serve many.”

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