financial-literacy

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round: Are You Ready?

An October 5, 2017 headline from the business section of the New York Times gave Ajeya Shiva reason to celebrate: Payday Lending Faces Tough New Restrictions By Consumer Agency.

Shiva, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, is really interested in the industry that provides payday loans, which are small loans that allow people to borrow against a future paycheck. Payday loans come with very high interest rates and are widespread in low-income communities, where people often need to borrow extra money just to pay their monthly bills. The end result – they get into a lot of debt with payday lenders that they then can’t afford to pay off.

Payday loans make Shiva angry. He believes that payday lenders “misuse, abuse and manipulate” vulnerable sections of society. “Payday lending systematically creates debt traps and ruins families and communities,” Shiva commented when he first read a November 2016 article that KWHS wrote about payday lending (see sidebar for Related KWHS Stories).

So, it’s little wonder that Shiva cheered over the news this month that the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is imposing tough new restrictions on payday lending and, as the New York Times article says, “dealing a potentially crushing blow to an industry that churns out billions of dollars a year in high-interest loans to working-class and poor Americans.”

A Threat to Your Financial Health

Why the deep interest in lending from a 17-year-old who isn’t even old enough to take out a payday loan? Two words: financial literacy.

Knowledge@Wharton High School talks a lot about this concept that means learning to manage money well. Financial literacy is a deep understanding of how money works in the world, including basic concepts like earning and saving, as well as more complex ideas like inflation and compound interest. People who are financially literate are better able to use knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their finances and manage money effectively throughout their lifetime.

But we don’t always address why it’s important to understand all aspects of personal finance, from the money in your wallet to the vast network of people and companies who guide, enable and support the financial decisions you make in life. The main reason is that knowledge is power — power that will help you avoid the financial pitfalls that dot the landscape of your life after high school, and give you the tools to navigate a system that is not always kind to consumers.

This empowerment is why Shiva feels so passionate about the intersection of financial literacy and payday loans: when you don’t understand how to manage your money, you are sometimes forced to make risky decisions that threaten your financial health. “People borrow from payday sharks because their knowledge of other sources of credit that may be available to them is severely limited. Above all, such desperate financing needs often arise in the first place because people do not know how to budget for expenses and save for a rainy day, however small their savings may turn out to be,” said Shiva, who won Round Three of the KWHS Comment and Win contest this summer with his reflections on payday lending and his plea for improved financial literacy. “My view is that financial literacy should be part of the core academic curriculum right from middle school. Armed with practical knowledge of finance, children, when they become adults, can then navigate the treacherous waters of the real world infinitely better.”

Shiva has found a way to address what he sees as a crisis of financial illiteracy among young people. In 2016, he began teaching a financial literacy course for teens at his tennis club in Harlem, N.Y. He later brought his idea to spread financial knowledge to the Strage Social Entrepreneurship Competition at his high school, taking home first prize and $1,000 to develop his Personal Finance Program for Teens. He is currently developing a personal finance curriculum for middle and high school students that he hopes to teach and later train others to carry forward.

Taboo Topic

Shiva’s initiative is but one example of how people are promoting financial literacy and helping teenagers learn to make smart decisions about their money. Students at Dunwoody High School near Atlanta, Georgia, recently met Gooding, the frontman for a rock band of the same name who is spreading the message of money management through music. Gooding never talked or learned about money as a teen and later paid the price when he made poor financial decisions that deeply damaged his credit. “So many people get in trouble with money and it puts them in such a bad spot,” Gooding says. “This is the common denominator for so many other problems.”

Whether it comes from a rocker, a rapper or a kid from the Bronx, financial literacy is a hot topic not only in the U.S., but also around the world. Advocates like Gooding, Shiva and your personal-finance educators are focused on teaching skills, and they are also trying to elevate the conversation about a topic that many people choose not to discuss around the dinner table – money, and all the ways it can help and hurt us depending on how well we manage it. “Each of us needs to understand the workings of money, as well as how to earn, save, invest and spend it wisely,” says Shiva, who hopes his Personal Finance for Teens program will include financial planning and investing games that simulate real-world finance, and an online forum for students to discuss money issues. “Economic well-being underpins our ability to lead a dignified life,” he adds. “There is an acute need for financial literacy.” #LetsTalkMoney

Conversation Starters

What is financial literacy and why does Ajeya Shiva feel so strongly about the connection between financial literacy and payday loans?

Gooding says, "So many people get in trouble with money and it puts them in such a bad spot. This is the common denominator for so many other problems.” What types of problems do you think he's alluding to? How can financial woes have a snowball effect?

One of the big issues surrounding personal finance is that we don't talk enough about it, with each other and at home. How will you do your part to elevate the conversation about money? Share your personal connections with payday loans, money management or financial literacy programs in the comments section of this article.

8 thoughts on “Money Makes the World Go ‘Round: Are You Ready?

  1. I feel a connection just as Shiva does towards this. Growing up with a single parent, I understand the financial struggles. Luckily we have never been put into too bad of a situation where we needed to get a payday loan. I can understand why people would need a loan to pay for their living & food expenses. Living near a poor area I see the struggles almost on a daily basis. The side hustles, trading food stamps for cash, all of it can be seen all over town because the entire town is in such a bad situation.

    1. Good morning, Bryce. Thank you for your thoughtful response to the article. Your perspective is really valuable. I’m curious to know how you would get people in your community talking and learning more about how to manage finances. Do you feel that it starts with educating students like you who can then be better prepared to manage what they earn and avoid pitfalls like payday loans? Would you share that message with your family? Day-to-day financial stress can be exhausting. How do we introduce financial literacy into the picture?

    2. Hi Bryce, thank you so much for your comments! They truly resonate with me. While some of us are lucky not having to go to loan sharks and the like, I think, and you would agree, that we have to do our bit to keep our communities safe, do things they should and avoid things they shouldn’t. In fact, the persuasion for me to start thinking about financial literacy came when I walked past storefronts which were pawnshops, check cashing outlets and “too good to be true” lenders. I was intrigued. I dug into it and what I found was appalling. There are many such areas in our society which require reform and it’s my humble belief that durable reform has to grow grounds up. In that context, you and I have a large responsibility to fulfill for decades to come.
      Kind regards.

  2. Shiva has a point regarding loans and financial literacy. Personally, my parents have only had to take out loans during emergencies, and they were able to pay them off. This is a society where most people can’t really afford minimal living expenses. This is more evident is more lower class areas, where many people rely on loans and public assistance to support themselves. This article gave me some insight on how loans affect the daily lives of people, and how financial literacy protects us.

    1. Larz, you’re so right in saying that some sections of our society are finding it difficult to get by without loans. This is where you and I can help, notably in educating people about personal finance and budgeting for expenses. Yes, some expenses are a given. But, the ones that are variable can be analyzed to arrive at informed decisions. Although not perfect, it is still possible to make small improvements which can add up. Income and wealth disparity is an extremely serious issue, but each of us can and should do whatever possible to make that incremental difference. Thanks for commenting!
      Best wishes.

  3. It’s ideas and initiatives like these that really excite me as a financial literacy enthusiast. I feel like a major part of spreading financial literacy is just getting the message out there – there’s still many students at the middle and high school level can’t even explain what financial literacy is in a sentence!

    Speaking from my own personal experience, I’ve noticed that students really start to develop a love for financial literacy and understanding once they get exposed to a fun and interactive environment, rather than a stressful one. I’ve put my school’s Investment Club into a virtual Budget Challenge Simulator where each student gets a biweekly check, has bills to pay on time, and can choose how much money they’d like to invest in their 401k along with the type of interest rate(s) they’d like. As the simulator has been progressing, I’ve started to notice that many students in the club really feel a sense of personal responsibility – not only in managing money, but in countless different ways. They love seeing “paid” on bills, or seeing their money exponentially increase from interest payments at the bank – even though it’s fake money on a virtual simulator, it still gives kids a great sense of responsibility and excitement about solving a real problem they’re going to face (and hopefully tackle) in a couple of years from now.

    Anyways, keep up the work Shiva! I’m excited to see what you’ll do to combat this. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Aneesh, it makes us kindred spirits! You’re doing a bunch of exciting things out there at your school and I wish you well with your efforts. It is clear that you and I are committed to a similar set of goals, although our approaches may be slightly different. Yet, they are complementary. Without a doubt, our goals are worth pursuing and I am certain that we will cover a great deal of ground in the years to come.
      Kind regards.

  4. To be financially literate is to understand how money works, and how to balance your spending and earning. Financially literate individuals are better able to use their knowledge and skills to make the correct judgement about the balance of their finances.

    Financial woes can be included in a sort of “domino effect”. When you are forced to take out a loan to pay off something, you work to pay off that loan. Due to this, you don’t have the money to pay for your next required purchase and/or transaction. This continues, over and over.

    In the case of my parents, they have only had to take out loans for the larger purchases, such as a new home, which would have been payed off soon by the sale of the previous home, or a car which could be payed off by setting aside a determined amount per month, regardless of their thoughts while setting the money aside. In my opinion, the fundamental approach to being financially literate is consistency.

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