Report: Most teens feel financially unprepared

High schoolers are concerned about rising higher education costs, lack of technology access.
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Kelloggsville High School student Yarlene Valdez said participating in the program helped her understand her strengths and weaknesses. Courtesy Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes

After two uncertain and often stressful years, high school students increasingly are worried about their financial futures, according to a new report.

In a 2022 survey report from Junior Achievement and Citizens, more than half (54%) of teens said they feel unprepared to finance their futures.

The findings of the fifth annual JA Teens & Personal Finance Survey indicate wide-ranging concern among teens regarding financial anxiety and the future, highlighting the need for additional resources to assist them in making financial decisions that impact them over the long term.

  • More than two-thirds of teens (69%) said rising education costs have affected their plans for additional education after high school.
  • While nearly a third of teens (31%) don’t expect their plans to be impacted, almost as many (28%) said they only are considering in-state schools, while 22% plan to live at home and commute to college, and 10% are considering getting a two-year degree versus a four-year degree.
Karen Minghine Hagenian. Courtesy Citizens

“Empowering students and families financially can help them for the rest of their lives,” said Karen Minghine-Hagenian, retail banking director-Midwest for Citizens, who is based in Michigan. “To ease uncertainly and ensure teens have the confidence to make sound financial decisions, it’s critical to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need through increasing access to educational resources and providing hands-on training.”

Teens said some of these concerns could be addressed with a better understanding of how student loans work (39%), knowing how education ties to jobs (38%) or having access to lower-cost alternatives (32%).

A significant portion of respondents (41%) said they have had no financial literacy classes in school, highlighting the need for educational resources to address these concerns. 

The digital divide became even more apparent at the outset of the pandemic, exacerbating digital literacy and technology equipment gaps. Of the teens planning to pursue a four-year degree, two-thirds (66%) expressed concern about having the technology needed to complete a degree. Factors that contribute to this concern include the cost of devices (52%) and poor Wi-Fi access/connectivity (28%). This lack of access becomes an inhibitor to young people to learn, work and even go to college.

Bill Coderre. Courtesy Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes

“Based on these survey results, it seems that now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to give our West Michigan students the tools they need to make financial decisions as it relates to their ongoing education,” said Bill Coderre, president and CEO of JA of the Michigan Great Lakes.

“JA is proud to partner with area high schools to bring personal financial education to our area students so they have the practical knowledge and understanding to make these important decisions.”

JA high school student Yarlene Valdez, who is from Kentwood and attends Kelloggsville High School, said during her junior year of high school, Junior Achievement helped her create and run a business.

“This was a really good experience because it helped me understand my own strengths and weaknesses,” Valdez said. “Ultimately, it helped me discover my passion for human resources. I can’t overstate how much I’ve grown through these opportunities, but I believe the real impact will be seen as I launch my business career.”

Junior Achievement and Citizens have done community outreach work to support underserved communities through technology, education and digital literacy initiatives to ensure all have an opportunity to be part of the workforce of the future, they said.

Citizens has partnered with Junior Achievement to support the implementation of financial literacy programs in communities where the financial institution has a presence. The bank also helped Junior Achievement enhance different implementation models, such as virtual volunteering and remote learning, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional findings from the survey:

  • 62% of teens use mobile or online applications to assist with money management, compared to 48% from a similar survey in 2019.
  • 38% of teens said cash still is their preferred payment method, compared to 2% who prefer apps.
  • 57% of teens said their parents use cash when giving them money, down from 71% in 2019, while 20% said their parents use apps, compared to 9% in 2019.
  • There has been a decline in the use of traditional financial tools by teens, specifically debit cards (59% today vs. 62% in 2019), credit cards (24% today vs. 30% in 2019), and checkbooks (9% today vs. 18% in 2019), over the same period.

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