Tampa students get financial education as student-loan debt tops $1.3 Trillion

TAMPA, FL — Student-loan debt has piled up to $1.3 trillion in the U.S., surpassing credit card and auto-loan debt. Borrowers leave school owing on average $34,000, that’s up 70 percent from a decade ago, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Thomas Jefferson High School senior Anthony Soto won’t be one of them. At age 18, he’s already visited a stock broker, and says the broker initially thought he was there on behalf of his mother.

“I was like, ‘I’m here to open an account to get into the money market.’ And he said, ‘Oh! So by the time you get to my age, you’ll probably be a millionaire!'” Soto said.

Soto is enrolled in a year-long personal finance course at Jefferson High School’s Business and Finance Leadership Academy. Students in the class learn to live debt free by avoiding loans and credit cards, setting budgets, and starting to save for retirement.

“You realize how many avenues and ways there are to save money — but you realize you need to take action now to be able to see yourself doing better in the future,” senior Resham Patel said.

While these students are setting themselves up to be okay, in general, the state of Florida isn’t. There’s no requirement that schools provide any personal-finance education, although financial literacy is included in high school curricula as part of a class on economics.

“No student should be able to cross the graduation stage without having taken and passing personal financial class,” Academy Director Larissa Dias-Lizarraga said.

A bill requiring a course in personal financial literacy as a graduation requirement is under consideration by Florida’s legislature. Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, filed the bill (SB 392) seeking to require a half-credit of financial literacy to graduate from Florida’s high schools. She’s been trying to get this legislation passed since 2014. If adopted, her bill would require ninth graders entering high school in 2017-18 or later to take a half-credit course in personal financial literacy and money management. The bill is currently scheduled for a second reading in the Senate.

The students at Jefferson High School use a program called Foundations in Personal Finance, developed by Dave Ramsey, a personal money-management expert, national radio personality and author. It is available for middle and high school students, and can also be used for homeschool classes.

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