SEBRING - Randy Lowe wishes he had taken an economics elective in high school that taught students about personal finance.
"It would have taught better money management skills, for college, for a business and personal life," said the Hardee High School student who graduated 10 years ago. "Better 10 years ago than five years ago."
While Lowe learned about pesky bank overdraft fees the hard way, just like many others before and after him, the state of Florida wants its high school graduates to be savvier about money management before going into the real world.
Students are now required to take a course in financial literacy as part of their economics requirement for graduation.
This was part of legislation, Senate Bill 1076, passed this year. The three Social Studies credits students now are required to have include one-half credit in economics, which has to weave in financial literacy.
The Highlands County School District is working on a new program through Junior Achievement of Highlands County, whose volunteers will teach seniors a personal finance course.
"This is one of our steps," said the School Board of Highlands County's Director of Secondary Programs Ruth Heckman. "The program that Junior Achievement has is very appropriate and students are always very responsive to the Junior Achievement people who come into the classrooms. We will be working on implementing those skills as well through other resources."
Lily Romine, executive director of Junior Achievement's Highlands and Polk county chapters, said volunteers will start around October at the Lake Placid and Avon Park high schools and next semester at Sebring High School.
Seniors will learn budgeting tips, identity fraud, interest calculations, how to manage credit and how to save, among personal finance topics. Romine said the course, which comprises five lesson plans, also is aligned with the Common Core Standards of education.
"I'm really excited," she said. "I think it's good for the community, not just the individual."
John Pelletier, Vermont-based Champlain College's The Center for Financial Literacy, welcomed the news.
"It's a good start," he said of the graduation requirement.
In a July report, Pelletier gave Florida a "D" on a national report card on state efforts to improve financial literacy in high schools, but the grading was based on 2012 information where the high school course was not a requirement in Florida.
Thursday, he said he welcomed the news, adding, though, that just mandating a course without backing it with the appropriate curriculum and teacher training didn't do the whole job.
"Training of teachers has been critical in my mind to complete the process," he said.
A key component in any personal finance class for the youth has to be how to manage credit and the implications of credit card debt, he said. Credit used to be offered to the very wealthy at one point but is now available to everybody and comes with pitfalls if not handled properly.
As an example, he explained that students need to understand whether deferring a purchase when you have the money is cheaper than putting the expense on a high-interest credit card or whether it's a good idea to have credit cards when you don't have a job.
The report notes that more can be done to teach the youth about personal finance. Since many colleges don't require personal finance courses, high school seems a logical place to offer them, the report adds.
"We would not allow a young person to get in the driver's seat of a car without requiring drivers education, and yet we allow our youth to enter the complex financial world often without any related education. An uneducated individual armed with a credit card, a student loan and access to a mortgage can be nearly as dangerous to themselves and their community as a person with no training behind the wheel of a car," the report adds.
Meanwhile, Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success
notes that half of Florida's college graduates had more than $23,000 in debt in 2011.
Younger Americans also are taking on more credit card debt than their elders, but they are also paying it off at a slower rate, according to an Ohio State University study.
"The findings suggest that younger generations may continue to add credit card debt into their 70s, and die still owing money on their cards," the report adds.
"If what we found continues to hold true, we may have more elderly people with substantial financial problems in the future," said Lucia Dunn, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University.
A part of the problem may be that today's youth are not learning about money management at home.
In a survey The Center for Financial Literacy asked parents what they talked with their kids about. "Clean your room," was number one, Pelletier said. Somewhere "pretty low" on the list parents responded they talked to them about sex, and below it was money.
That was before the recession hit. After the recession, a slightly higher percentage of parents discussed money matters but that was a 1 percent increase, he said.
"It's a little bit disturbing that the two are comparable," he added.