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New law requires Wisconsin high schoolers to take financial literacy course to graduate

Posted at 9:36 AM, Dec 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-12 10:36:51-05

Despite its importance for a lot of Americans, managing their personal finances continues to be a challenge. But a new Wisconsin law hopes to help change that.

After getting overwhelming support from both the Assembly and Senate, Bill 109, which requires high schoolers to complete a half credit of personal financial literacy in order to graduate, was made official last Wednesday by Governor Tony Evers.

It’s a move Brenda Campbell, the President and CEO of Secure Futures said is long overdue. Secure Futures focuses on personal finance empowerment among teens, sending volunteers directly into schools to educate them.

“We knew that thousands and thousands of students across the state of Wisconsin were graduating without a clue on how to manage their money,” she said. “We believe that this is what’s best for our students and what’s best for all of us.”

According to a recent survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Wells Fargo, 56 percent of Americans did not have a budget in 2021 and nearly 50 percent of households reported having credit card debt.

“There’s definitely a sweet spot in financial education,” Campbell said. “If you can catch students when they’re in the 16, 17, 18-year-old range, everything we teach is relevant to them.”

She said the new law, now under Act 60 would help target young adults just opening a bank account or starting a part-time job and who have student loans and credit cards right around the corner.

According to NextGen Finance, right now, in Wisconsin, about 35 percent of students are required to study personal finance in high school. Act 60 would make it 100 percent, going into affect for the 2028 graduating class.

For some students at UW-Milwaukee, it's something they wish was the case when they were in high school.

"When I first started college, I had no idea how to manage my money well,” senior John Powell said. "I was never really taught how to manage credit cards or paychecks or anything like that it was all kind of like do with it as you go."

Powell said he’s since put in a lot of effort to educate himself through resources available online, and learned to start saving but he could still use some guidance around things like taxes.

For many, like Powell, trying to learn the ropes on their own ends up being a lot of trial and error with mistakes Campbell hopes more people can avoid.

“It’s important,” Powell added “Everyone should know how to use their money effectively and efficiently in order to progress.”

Campbell also said the new requirement will allow Secure Futures to focus less on basic financial literacy and go more in-deep with their services.