Does the U.S. need a Secretary of Personal Finance?

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    A few weeks ago, I was flying back to Minnesota, my home state, after doing a workshop for a large community organization and the thought hit me: We need a Secretary of Personal Finance.

    Now before you dismiss the idea as being too "out there" or "too redundant" – don’t we already have a Department of the Treasury? – please indulge me while I make my case.

    As it currently stands, the Department of the Treasury does oversee the Office of Financial Education, created in 2002, and according to the Department of Treasury website, it claims to do the following:

    "The Office of Financial Education works to promote access to the financial education tools that can help all Americans make wiser choices in all areas of personal financial management, with a special emphasis on saving, credit management, home ownership and retirement planning. The Office also coordinates the efforts to improve financial literacy and education for people throughout the United States."

    With all due respect to the fine people who work in the Office of Financial Education, the status quo isn’t working. Here are four quick reasons for my criticism:

    • Our personal savings rate went negative in 2005 for the first time since 1933.
      The current savings rate for young adults 25 to 34 is -6 percent.

    • Our personal credit management in this country is abysmal and getting worse.
      The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $9,000 – an increase of
      167% from 1990 to 2005.

    • While 69 percent of American households own their home, they increasingly use
      their accrued equity to pay off credit cards and finance other consumer purchases.

    • A stunning 75 percent of all U.S. workers have saved less than $100,000 for retirement.

    We have cabinet level positions for energy, transportation, education and labor to name a few, so why not personal finance? After all, 70 percent of our total economy is dependent on consumer spending. Our economy won’t keep growing if we don’t ensure the financial health of all our citizens.

    Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge the need and recognize the urgency this issue has for all Americans. It’s time we give it the prominence it deserves by naming a Secretary of Personal Finance.

    Exercise your right as a citizen and e-mail this column to your legislators with a brief explanation as to why you feel this is important. Click on these links to locate your representative and senators:

    http://www.house.gov/writerep/
    http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

    For greater impact, share this idea with friends, students and community groups.

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    sed author, award-winning speaker and national expert on family finances and the effects of mass marketing on young people. A top-performing financial advisor and vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 financial services company, he founded Share-Save-Spend LLC, an organization that helps people of all ages develop and maintain healthy financial habits. His book, Prodigal Sons & Material Girls: How Not to Be Your Child's ATM, was released in 2003 by publisher John Wiley & Sons. Nathan is vice-chair of both the National Institute on Media and the Family and Minneapolis-based YouthCARE boards. Visit www.sharesavespend.com, e-mail [email protected] Copyright © 2005 Nathan Dungan. All rights reserved.

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