Year in Review: Financial Literacy Developments in 2018

The financial literacy news you probably didn’t hear about, but should have.

Financial literacy has come a long way. A hundred years ago, the term didn’t exist. Today, financial education is taught across the country and around the world.

As the benefits of financial literacy become increasingly apparent, efforts to provide it are embraced across a wider range of spaces—from high school classrooms to community centers and bank lobbies. The ever-expanding patchwork of programs reaches local, state, and national levels, and new initiatives are launched every year. This makes it sometimes hard to keep up with it all.

So, what happened in 2018? Lots. Here are the six most important developments from the year that reflect advances in financial education.


1. States added a personal finance requirement as a condition of high school graduation.

States are implementing more stringent requirements for personal finance in the classroom. This includes curricula guidance, teacher training, availability of resources, and student assessments.

  • According to a Brookings Institution report, 20 states and D.C. don’t require high school financial literacy to be offered or taken in any capacity.
  • Three states—Louisiana, Kentucky, and Iowa—passed major legislation in 2018 directing their respective state education boards to establish high school financial literacy requirements.
  • These laws won’t go into effect immediately, as leaders work to develop curricula, guidelines, and resources.
  • Ryan Wise, the Iowa Department of Education director, told a local paper that the legislation is “a great effort that will really improve the financial literacy skills of our young people.” Iowa’s 2020 graduating class will be the first in the state to have a financial literacy requirement for graduation.
2. States recognized April as Financial Literacy Month.

The Jump$tart Coalition was the original promoter of Financial Literacy Month during April. The first iteration was the brainchild of the National Endowment for Financial Education as Youth Financial Literacy Day. When the initiative was given to Jump$tart to promote in 2000, the nonprofit expanded the single day into what is now a month-long initiative to highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach Americans how to establish healthy financial habits.

  • In 2004, the United States officially recognized April as National Financial Literacy Month with the Senate passing of Resolution 316.
  • In 2018, several states recognized April as Financial Literacy Month, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Texas.
  • Delaware proclaimed the week of April 23, 2018, to be “Teach Children to Save Week,” encouraging Delawareans to teach their children how to save money.
  • Michigan declared April 21-28, 2018, as Money Smart Week.
3. Senators introduced the Youth Financial Learning Act of 2018

Members of Congress are taking notice of the rise in debt affecting young people. In order to curtail a generational financial crisis made up of excessive student loan and credit card debt, a few senators are advocating for youth financial literacy initiatives.

  • On December 13, 2018, senators Maggie Hassan, Doug Jones, and Kirsten Gillibrand proposed legislation to establish a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant program that would aid states in building in-school financial literacy programs.
  • The Youth Financial Learning Act of 2018 would create a grant for local school districts to implement, expand, and maintain financial literacy curriculum by relying on community partnerships to increase financial literacy among youths.
  • Senator Hassan told The Telegraph that “[a]s we work to support job creation and expand economic opportunity for our young people, we also need to ensure that students are prepared to navigate their current and future finances, including student loan obligations, paying bills on time, establishing good credit, and even planning for retirement.”


1. Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Financial Literacy Annual Report

One of the missions of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) is to improve the financial capability of Americans through education. The annual report provides an overview of the government agency’s resources and research in addition to setting guidelines on how we should view financial literacy.

  • The CFPB’s research found that “[f]inancial education can support consumers in improving their financial situations especially through development of financial skill.”
  • The CFPB defines financial well-being as “a state of being reflecting a person’s ability to meet current and ongoing financial obligations, feel secure in their financial future, and make choices that allow enjoyment of life.”
2. Survey of the States

The Council for Economic Education (CEE) conducts a survey into the state of K-12 economic and financial education in the U.S. every two years. The Survey of the States takes a comprehensive look at all 50 states and D.C. in order to mark progress for financial education, as well as barriers to continued growth.

  • Since the survey’s first publication in 1998, there had been notable progress until recent years, with the 2018 survey suggesting no growth in financial education.
  • Only 17 states require a high school personal finance graduation requirement.
  • Only seven states ensure that classroom personal finance instruction is accompanied by student assessments.
3. NFCC Consumer Financial Literacy Survey

Conducted in March 2018 among 2,017 American adults, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) survey looks at consumer knowledge of financial literacy. It reveals important trends in personal finance behavior pertaining to saving, spending, credit cards, student loans, and retirement.

  • About half of American adults are spending the same as last year, while 24 percent spend more and 25 percent spend less than before.
  • 29 percent save more now compared to one year ago, particularly millennials and Gen Xers.
  • 25 percent admit they don’t pay all of their bills on time. In fact, eight percent have debts in collection.

What do you think is the most important development for financial literacy? Let’s discuss on Twitter at @OppUniversity.

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