College students today may personally deal with money and debt more often than they used to, given heavy student loan debts and credit card bills. But according to a new study, that doesn't mean they have a firm grip on financial matters .
In fact, more of the 43,000 college students surveyed for the third annual "Money Matters on Campus" report said they feel less prepared to handle finances than any other aspect of college.
That's not a huge surprise, given how little education there is about money. While most states require high school students to learn about historical events like World War II and how to calculate the area of an object, most states don't require students to pass a financial literacy test to graduate. Just 17 states require financial literacy education and only six require financial literacy testing to graduate.
And the lack of financial literacy has real-world implications. Students in college today are less likely to pay off an entire credit card bill on time or even review their bills than students several years ago. Twelve percent of those surveyed said they don't check their bank balances because it makes them too nervous.
At the same time, risky behaviors, such as using a payday lender, have remained constant. Students surveyed were also less likely to have an idea of how they will pay off their student loans.
While some poor financial decisions stem from a lack of options - running up credit card debt because you haven't been able to find a job that allows you to pay all of your bills on time, for instance - the survey suggests that many students are making those decisions blind, without an understanding of how massive student loan debt or credit card debt can impact them later. And they're stressing about it. More than half of the students surveyed are worried about how to handle rising tuition costs and finding a job after graduation.
The report suggests teaching students about finances earlier, so they are more prepared to manage their money in college.
“If opportunity and prosperity are to remain hallmarks of the American way of life," said Nan Morrison, president and CEO of the Council for Economic Education in a statement, "we must make sure our young people are anchored in a sound understanding of the economic and financial landscape they face in the 21st century.”
The survey was sponsored by Higher One, which provides financial products, including debit cards, on college campuses, and conducted by EverFi, an education technology company.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.