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Most states don’t require schools to teach personal finance. It’s inferior to other subjects — like math, science, English and history — but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says it shouldn’t be that way. After all, personal finance is a core component of everyday adulthood, whether or not people treat it as such.

Richard Cordray, director of the CFPB, spoke Wednesday at the Financial Literacy and Education Commission Field Hearing on precisely that issue, according to his remarks published online.

“The neglect of financial education can certainly undermine progress in any nation organized around a free market and founded on a regime of personal responsibility, as is true in the United States,” Cordray said at the event on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. “Yet Americans have neglected this important matter.”

Many Americans don’t understand how their behaviors determine their credit scores, which in turn dictate their access to credit and decent interest rates. Americans also carry a lot of debt, and many dream of the day they can escape it.

Learning Early

Though individuals may not learn much about money until they get their first job or go to college, the CFPB stresses that financial education should start well before those milestones. (There’s no shortage of financial horror stories when it comes to college students and credit cards.)

“Children form their financial identities early, and so it is important for parents to talk to their children about money at an early age,” Corday’s remarks said. “But we also need to face the hard reality that it is probably unrealistic at the outset to think that we can count on these matters to be taught successfully in the home.”

He continued, pointing out how conversations about money are not only nonexistent in some households, they’re considered taboo.

In fact, Cordray noted that some parents are seeking financial education as well.

“Whenever I have been involved in financial education programs in the classroom, invariably we hear later from some children that their parents wondered where they could find similar lessons for themselves,” he said.

Improving Finance Education

The CFPB is advocating for strong personal finance education in schools. Meanwhile, Americans will have to work with what they have in their own homes, meaning adults have an obligation to inform their children about concepts like saving, budgeting and other responsible behaviors.

Of course, that means parents need to have at least a basic level of personal finance knowledge, too.

Steps toward understanding personal finance start with getting the whole picture. Consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit reports each year, where they can review their financial history and check for and address any discrepancies. That history feeds one’s credit score, which can be accessed for free using Credit.com’s Credit Report Card. With that information in hand, an individual can make better informed financial decisions.

And when it comes to education, from preschool through retirement, asking questions always helps.

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