High school students show near-universal mistrust of financial institutions

Source: University of Arizona

A new national opinion poll of nearly 900 high school students shows that more than two years after the country suffered the massive financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the majority of respondents harbor a significant amount of distrust toward banks, credit unions, credit card companies, businesses and investment institutions.

This sense of distrust is compounded by a lack of understanding about the basic services and products of financial institutions.

"This poll is extremely revealing," said Dr. Michael Staten, Director of the University of Arizona's Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research, which commissioned The Financial Literacy Group consulting firm to conduct the survey earlier this year. "In addition to students' lack of knowledge about the building blocks of personal finance, which we have seen for years in these types of surveys, it shows the next generation of American consumers now also actively distrusts many of the pillars of the financial services industry.

"Despite their strong suspicion of financial institutions, these students responded that they believe education is important to their futures and that financial success can be achieved with the right financial decisions," said Staten. "This is a hopeful sign and it tells us that more financial education is needed. It may not yet be too late to defuse this sense of cynicism about all things financial, and to prepare these young consumers for the financial choices they will face in adulthood."

Some of the poll's findings include:

* The majority of students responding to the survey (60%) believe that credit card companies often entice people into taking on more debt that they can handle.
* Over 70% of students believe that businesses often try to "trick young people" into spending more than they should.
* Only 25% of students disagreed with the following statement: "The stock market is rigged mostly to benefit greedy Wall Street bankers."
* Only 15% of students are aware that credit unions are different than banks with respect to their not-for-profit status.
* Fewer than 1 in 5 students who responded to the survey (17%) disagreed with the statement that "Banks are mostly interested in getting my money through hidden fees."

The poll was offered to students at 1dents at 18 high schools in 11 states across the country, and 878 students completed the survey in January and February of this year. Respondents from all levels of high school were represented.

"While some organizations are making strong efforts in the field of financial education, overall not enough is being done to educate America's youth about money, at school or at home," said Dan Iannicola, Jr., former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Education at the U.S. Treasury Department and CEO of The Financial Literacy Group consulting firm. "But as these results show, just because we aren't teaching about money, doesn't mean kids aren't learning about it. This survey asks the question 'just what are they learning?'

"This isn't just about bad PR for the financial services industry," said Iannicola. "Adolescents with this level of distrust of financial institutions become adults who don't open bank accounts, invest for retirement, insure against risks or finance important purchases like college educations or homes. This type of financial disengagement could push a generation of consumers away from mainstream institutions and toward risky alternative service providers or toward simple inactivity, which has its own perils."

Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 27 June, 2011, 13:28Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Iannicola has a point

“Adolescents with this level of distrust of financial institution …  become adults who don't invest for retirement …  this type of financial disengagement … could push a generation toward risky alternative services” 

In my opinion applied economics courses or fundamentals in finance should be offered in high schools. It is possibly as important as sex education although hardly as interesting.