Several answers and comments have postulated ignorance of the most basic financial features, for example, a total misapprehension of "marginal tax rate". See, for example, the comments under the answer of Raj to the question Is it wise to pay off my mortgage with money from my 401k.

My question is:

What do we know (not surmise) about elementary financial education at the pre-college and early college levels in the US for institutions that otherwise are recognized as providing good educations ? How rare is such financial education?

Factual information only, please. No opinions. If the answer is that we don't know because the pertinent data set is empty, that is an answer.

My highly ranked high school provided no financial education whatsoever, but that was decades ago. Have, or are, things changed/changing in this respect?

Addendum in Response to Comments About Ranking High Schools: Several commenters expressed doubt that high schools are ranked. However, see McLean, Langley High School Rank in Top 20 on Washington Post List, which says (among other information):

MCLEAN, VA: McLean High School ranked at #7 on The Washington Post's "D.C. Area Schools" list of "America's Most Challenging High Schools." Langley High School placed at #20. Washington International in Washington, D.C. took the top spot.

U.S. News and World Report also posted its list of "Best High Schools" this week. The rankings are not the same because each news site analyzes data to rank schools on a different basis..........

The Washington Post says it determines the D.C. area ranking by dividing the number of seniors who graduated last year by the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school that year.

On a separate list, The Washington Post ranked "National Schools," for nearly 2,300 high schools nationwide.

What does the Addendum have to do with Personal Finance? Plenty. There is currently a brouhaha about redrawing the boundaries so that some Langley students will be moved to another high school. There is a lot of angst about this, not only because Langley is rated higher than the other HS, but because the ratings-differential is reflected in property values. Even people who have no school-age children face a non-trivial loss of value in their houses if they end up on the wrong side of the new line.

  • 2
    Why should they provide any financial literacy except in Economics classes? (Schools only have children for a fixed number of hours per week, and it’s already chock full of everything else people expect schools to teach their kids. Adding new stuff means that existing courses be trimmed.)
    – RonJohn
    May 19, 2019 at 1:41
  • @RonJohn I don't want to argue whether basic financial info (BFI) is more important than X, which is already taught. That is not the question. I just want some factual info on whether BFI is covered in schools that are objectively rated as excellent
    – ab2
    May 19, 2019 at 3:51
  • I feel like there is an important motive behind this question, but I can't quite pinpoint it. Care to share?
    – TTT
    May 19, 2019 at 16:01
  • 1
    Are there really such things as rankings for high schools? At least with most public schools, isn't the curriculum pretty much mandated by law?
    – jamesqf
    May 19, 2019 at 16:25
  • @jamesqf Some schools are better than others. When people move to a new location, they check out the schools. I doubt that each high school has a ranking, but someone coming to the DC area won't have any trouble finding data on which jurisdictions have good schools and which don't.
    – ab2
    May 19, 2019 at 19:42

5 Answers 5


As a currently enrolled student in higher education (3rd year) and having lived in the united states for my entire life in a middle class household whilst going through the public school education system for my entirety of grade school years (graduated HS in 2016), I can respond to your question with a clear 'NO'.

There is no personal financial advisement or basic education on how to manage money being taught in the realm of academia point blank (at least in my community). As a junior attaining my Bachelors in Science from the #2 university in my state you would think that there would be some sort of financial advisement in order to guide students with there income as they will start actually making sustainable salaries, as I see so many of my peers finishing every semester and immediately land six figure paying jobs post-graduation.

Logically, giving students the benefit of some sort of basic financial education would be a smart move and possibly cut down on the bloating national debt (U.S reference). Yet that doesn't seem to be the case my friend.

  • As someone who graduated college a few years ago, I had mostly the same experience. I remember taking a 'finance' class or something in high school where we learned to balance a checkbook (super easy pretty much useless in today's online banking world). Then in college I took a Engineering Economics course and that one course opened all the doors for me. I understood the equations and the importance of compound interest/budgeting. So 17 years of schooling, I had 2 classes that dealt with finances and only one of them was useful.
    – rhavelka
    May 27, 2019 at 18:31
  • I still have yet to take a finance class lol, I'm just starting to read the intelligent investor in my spare time now that i'm actually making above minimum wage. @rhavelka May 28, 2019 at 19:05
  • It's the parents' job to teach their children basic financial education. It's the student's job to take some introductory economics courses. The one I took in HS was incredibly useful (40+ years ago).
    – RonJohn
    Feb 8, 2020 at 22:44

What do we know (not surmise) about elementary financial education at the pre-college and early college levels in the US for institutions that otherwise are recognized as providing good educations ? How rare is such financial education?

High schools are measured by how well their students meet or exceed the graduation requirements. Even private schools are measured by the number students that get into college.

In the United States Public High Schools have to meet the graduation requirements of their State. Those guidelines specify the number of History, English, Science and Math classes that students needed to graduate. They also specify the number of Gym, Drivers Education, and Art classes that are needed.

A few years back the sate of Virginia added an Economics and Personal Finance graduation requirement. This caused problems. Adding a class to the required list of classes, meant that students lost one elective. This was perceived as a burden because that meant that students were planning on taking multiple AP or IB classes had to take one fewer.

Some schools and school districts even offered the class online, so they could choose the option of taking an extra class that wouldn't fit during the normal class hours. Some students decided that taking Gym online was also an acceptable option.

Since my kids just missed this requirement I have no idea if there has been a measurable benefit. But I did witness the angst of the parents who had to deal with the new requirement.

At around the same time the state tried to add another well meaning requirement to the graduation requirements, but that would have essentially eliminated all electives in some schools unless the day was lengthened, or class periods shortened, or some requirements were pushed down to the middle schools. That idea was dropped.

Now there are some other schools where a rigorous Financial education can be found. There are either private schools that make it a requirement, or public charter schools that do so. Private schools and charter schools can make graduation requirements above those set by the state.

Saying lets add a graduation requirement is easy. Finding room for that requirements and dealing with all the impacts is much harder.

  • 1
    "taking Gym online was also an acceptable option" - Hah!
    – TTT
    May 19, 2019 at 15:59

There isn't much. I know that FDIC has developed a basic training program for kids.


Junior Achievement is a nationwide non-profit that teaches those life skills. The group came for like an afternoon one time and I never saw them again.

Some schools partner with banks to create a savings program for kids, where parent volunteers help kids deposit money to the bank. When I was in elementary school, Washington Mutual (now Chase) had a program like that with my school. Now, I am still a customer with them - they get kids signed up when they are young with the hope that they will remain customers for life.


So there does exist The Financial Literacy and Education Commission at the U.S. Treasury

And the document: Promoting Financial Success In The United States: A National Strategy for Financial Literacy 2016 Update covers a number of sources regarding the financial literacy of the population.

The best source for the state level regarding formal education policy on the matter of personal finance is at: The Council of Economic Education - Survey of the States. The report lists out on a state by state level requirements for a high school economics class, is personal finance education in the state standard, etc.

Given that some state governments have state level requirements and/or standardized testing, further detail regarding localized performance might be available.

For example, Virginia has state standards and required coursework at the high school level. There is the Virginia Department of Education - Personal Finance and within that page has links to the standards and those high schools who met certain criteria for recognition in Working in Support of Eduction (W!se)'s Financial Literacy Certification.


Today's (02/08/2020) New York Times has an article which addresses this question. The electronic version has the title More States Require Students to Learn about Money Matters. Author is Ann Carrns.

The article states that as of now, 21 states require some sort of personal finance course for high school students to graduate, up from 17 states two years ago. Tim Ranzetta, the founder of the non-profit group Next Gen Personal Finance, is quoted in the linked article as saying

Teaching [personal finance] to lower-income students is especially important ... in part because their education is likely to also benefit their families.

Referring to a report by the Council for Economic Education, which reported the statistics in the linked article, Ranzetta said:

A stand-alone course taught for at least a semester is the "gold standard" for personal finance in high school .... but just seven states meet that measure.

The NYT article made no mention of the difficulties of adding an extra required course to all the other courses required of high school students, a difficulty which several of the answers to this question emphasized.

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