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April 22. 2014 6:51PM

Catherine Provencher : We need to do more to teach financial literacy in NH

"Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical," is one of the many sayings attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra. Though April does mark the start of the baseball season, it also is the month during which we promote the need for the kind of education that might have helped Yogi improve on his ability to calculate percentages.

April is designated as National Financial Literacy Month, and it is recognized around the United States as a time for students, parents and educators to focus on teaching young people personal financial basics — such as interest rate percentages and managing spending and saving — that will empower them to make smart financial decisions throughout their lives.

The state of financial literacy across America remains bleak, with comprehension of basic financial principles at alarmingly low rates. For example, recent Michigan Retirement Research Center research shows that only 27 percent of young adults understand basic financial concepts such as interest rates and inflation.

The bottom line? People with inadequate education and low levels of financial literacy tend to be less financially secure, less able to make sound financial decisions, and less prepared to take care of personal and family responsibilities.

We are fortunate in our state because nearly nine in 10 New Hampshire adults agree that more time should be spent in schools teaching personal financial concepts, according to the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and New Hampshire Jump$tart Coalition. However, only three of our state's public high schools currently teach personal finance as required coursework. This month, Gov. Maggie Maggie Hassan is recognizing those three schools for going above and beyond in their commitment.

In spite of these challenges, we are making progress. According to a new national capability survey, the financial literacy of New Hampshire residents has improved in recent years and, while lower than we'd like, it is higher than the national average. It is by working together — schools, businesses, nonprofits and at home — that we will continue this momentum.

An example of such collaboration can be seen in the work of the N.H. Jump$tart Coalition, which is supported enthusiastically by the state Treasurer's office and Fidelity Investments. To teach more students the concepts of personal finance, Jump$tart and Fidelity volunteers brought the "I Can Save" program to elementary school children. Through interactive lessons about saving, spending and sharing, we are encouraging students to begin a savings habit early in life.

Employee volunteers also are working with high schools in the state to present Financial Fitness Fairs to students during Financial Literacy Month and to offer the Smart Market program during the year in partnership with the New Hampshire Union Leader.

These programs enable our youth to better understand the relevancy of personal finance and help prepare them for economic success. Just as Fidelity aspires to make its financial expertise broadly accessible and effective in helping people live the lives they want, the company and employees take a similar approach in giving back to communities across the United States through volunteer programs such as these. Many employee volunteers, such as Chase Martell from Hooksett, say helping students by sharing their knowledge and experience mirrors similar approaches they use with customers every day. And the kids love what they're learning.

"We have family discussions about money even after the program is over," said one student.

"The ongoing support Fidelity has given to Jump$tart has clearly impacted my ability to teach my Personal Finance class in a very positive way," said Krista Scarlett, a teacher at Goffstown High School.

This effort is very important to us because it demonstrates how working together with compassion and a deep sense of responsibility to the community can help our students make wise decisions for themselves and their futures. We encourage students and teachers to take advantage of all opportunities to advance financial literacy among young people. And as parents we also have a responsibility to talk with our sons and daughters about money. After that, we can go watch the baseball game.

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Catherine Provencher served as New Hampshire Treasurer from 2007 until March 28, when she began her new role as vice chancellor for financial affairs and treasurer of the University System of New Hampshire. William Dwyer is commissioner of the New Hampshire Treasury. Joe Murray oversees government and community relations for Fidelity Investments' New Hampshire region, based in Merrimack.


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