Thursday, September 27, 2018

Texas Scores in the Bottom Half on Financial Literacy

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 2:29 PM

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Texans like to think of themselves as independent types adept at looking out for No. 1.

But that may not extend to looking after our own finances. Texas ranked 33rd out of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in a Wallet Hub ranking of residents' financial savvy. Massachusetts topped the list, while Mississippi took up the rear.

To compile the ranking, researchers combed through 24 metrics that represent financial literacy, ranging from foreclosure rates to the number of households without a bank.

Texas' poor overall showing doesn't mean residents have no fiscal self-control. We did rank pretty well in the percentage of adults who spend less than they earn and our total debt as a percentage of median income — 15th in both cases.

The problem is... well, almost everything else.

Our median credit rating ranks a dismal 45th, our percentage of households without a bank is 42nd and we're 46th in housing expenses as a percentage of median home price.

Of course, research shows it's awfully hard for families to make sound financial decisions when they're trapped in the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

And that may explain the low showing for Texas, where nearly 16 percent of residents live in poverty. Many other states even lower on the list — Arkansas, West Virginia and the aforementioned Mississippi, for example — have even higher poverty rates.

But, locally, there have been some efforts to reverse course.

The city of San Antonio operates four Financial Empowerment Centers that offers free, one-on-one financial consulting to residents. A nonprofit partner operates two more. Last year, clients of the six centers collectively paid down $2.9 million in debt.

"Financial literacy is needed at all levels, but it impacts people in low income income levels differently from the way it impacts people at the upper- and middle-income levels," said Richard Keith, a human services administrator for the city. For example, people living paycheck-to-paycheck may feel they have little choice but to take out high-interest payday loans when a hardship occurs.

In addition to the city's efforts, the San Antonio CPA Society operates a three-month program and contest that allows students at 13 area high schools to focus on financial literacy.

"If you have the knowledge to make better choices early, it can help you avoid financial crisis situations down the road," said Jacqui Belcher, the society's executive director.

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