I was 24 years old, listening to an NPR podcast and driving up the rugged west coast of New Zealand in a campervan, the first time I learned that canceling a credit card hurts your credit.
At that point in my adult life, I’d already had three credit cards, canceled one, and thought I was strategically playing the airline credit card game. Suffice to say, I was not thrilled to learn that my brilliant plan of using credit cards to get free flights and canceling them once the new membership perks wore off was probably not the most brilliant idea.
Thankfully, NPR’s Life Kit found me, but I had to wonder: Why did I learn more about credit cards in a 20-minute podcast episode than I had in my entire high school education?
Credit cards are not the only thing I wish I had learned in a financial literacy class in high school.
As you can probably guess from my former occupation as a working holiday backpacker and my lifelong ambition to always be writing music, I’ve had quite a few odd jobs. My 2020 income portfolio included everything from performance royalties to netting grapes to fixing marketing displays in Circle K stores to ghostwriting a romance novella.
I am not the only person who faced a jumble of W-2s and 1099s filling out 2020 taxes. Many of my friends started gig work after losing their 9-to-5 employment during the pandemic, and I worry about how many of them were prepared for the extra 7.6% FICA taxes normally paid by their employers.
I know I certainly wasn’t ready for the taxes of independent contracting. And as a result, I’ve undercharged for my piano lessons and worked some jobs that only ended up giving me $6-$8 an hour once taxes came into play.
If I had been taught more about finances in high school, it would have allowed me to better advocate for myself, and saved a lot of time I wasted on jobs that weren’t paying me livable wages.
Thankfully, when faced with all the lines of my tax forms, I can ask my parents for support. While my parents have avoided most gig-economy headaches throughout their working lives, they were both business majors and more than once, my mom has helped me calculate potential tax rates, potential annual income, and given me financial advice.
Not everyone has a financially-savvy mother, though, and I’m not really sure where I’d be without her counsel.
We need financial literacy classes in all high schools so young people in Colorado can get the information they need. Regardless of whether they pursue gig work in the same way I do, all students in Colorado would benefit from learning about credit, taxes, saving for retirement, navigating student loans, and more about the complexities of finance.
If young people had this information in high school, they could better advocate for themselves, better assess the pros and cons of different forms of employment, be more empowered to start their own businesses, and avoid some of the situations I fell into.
House Bill 1200, titled “Revise Student Financial Literacy Standards,” has been introduced in the Colorado legislature this year. The bill seeks to broaden the high school financial literacy curriculum that’s already encouraged under state law, to cover such topics as understanding credit cards, college costs and student-loan debt, home ownership and mortgages, and retirement investing and benefits.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives on April 26 on a 55-8 vote and is now before the Senate.
I urge you to contact your legislators today and ask them to support HB 1200.
Silen Wellington is a University of Colorado Boulder graduate living in Fort Collins.
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