From the Desk Of State Treasurer Lynn Fitch

In Our Pocket, In Our State

We hear a lot these days about Mississippi being one of the nation’s top states for economic development and job creation, but even if we became the nation’s most prosperous, dynamic state tomorrow, that progress means little if we fail to keep the money we’ve earned from those jobs in our pocket or in our state.

Earlier this summer, a national study formulated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) found Mississippi to be the nation’s “least financially capable” state, with 41 percent of credit card holders making only minimum payments. That means considerable sums of Mississippians’ household income goes out of state monthly to credit card companies alone.

Overall FINRA says 22 percent of Mississippians surveyed spent more than their income last year. (That obviously excludes people who bought a new house, car or other big purchase.) Two out of three Mississippians have no savings or “rainy day” fund to cover emergency expenses. More than 38 percent of Mississippians surveyed reported using very-high interest loans. Ten percent of respondents said they owned more on their home than it’s worth. And finally, 41 percent of us reported having unpaid medical bills.

So why are so many Mississippians struggling to manage personal finances even as our state’s economy is improving? One big reason: Mississippi doesn’t require the teaching of personal finance courses in our schools.

To be sure, some schools offer financial literacy instruction, but few schools teach a dedicated financial literacy curriculum, and no Mississippi schools require it.
When you think of it, not requiring personal finance for high school graduation is dangerously shortsighted. It jeopardizes our young peoples’ future, no matter what career path they choose.

These days, it really doesn’t matter if a young person is bound for the workforce or college, he or she will have to make major decisions about money very soon. Whether they’re renting their first apartment, paying off a student loan, buying a car, or taking out credit, a mortgage — young people must understand how to manage these financial tools, before these tools end up managing them.

You may recall, last year I offered a plan to require financial literacy courses in our schools. It passed the Mississippi House of Representatives without ANY opposing votes. House Bill 637 was truly a bipartisan bill enjoying broad support. Yet, when the financial literacy bill went to the Senate, the bill was bottled up in committee.

As conservatives, we rightfully advocate living within our means, balancing our budget, saving money, and building lasting wealth through wise investments. We’ve justifiably denounced the federal government’s deficit spending and dependence on debt, particularly that which is held by foreign countries, especially Communist China.

Republicans understand our public spending problems are rooted in the fact that a growing number of Americans have a personal spending problem. It’s a cultural debt dependency that can be corrected if we start teaching practical personal financial management practices early — and mandatory for high school graduation.

From finding that our state is the nation’s “least financially capable,” I see opportunity. Mississippi can be one of the first states, rather than the last, to require financial literacy instruction as a prerequisite for high school graduates.

It’s also a chance for Republicans to further promote our belief that good public policy encourages, equips and empowers individuals. Required financial literacy courses can help a new generation make sound personal choices and improve Mississippi’s overall quality-of-life. Better managed personal finances contribute to Mississippi having more stable, sustained growth and a workforce that’s more efficient and capable.

We all know Mississippi is a financially poor state compared to some others — the last state which needs to hemorrhage personal income. Let’s help prevent our hard earned income from leaving Mississippi’s communities. A more financially capable populous will help Mississippi keep more money in our pocket, in our state.

Call your legislators and urge them to support this year’s financial literacy bill.

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