I am occasionally reminded that while I might enjoy reading personal finance blogs and thinking about how to top off my savings accounts with unexpected cash flows, not everyone of my generation shares this enthusiasm for or love of personal finance; and that, consequently, their own knowledge is somewhat limited.
Today, for instance, I was chatting with a few similarly aged friends, one of whom was mentioning that her credit card had been stolen. She had been relieved to find that her card company contacted her immediately, and the charge was resolved.
Because they had been on my mind recently (I like to check all three of my credit reports around my birthday/the holidays, in addition to my thrice-yearly individual credit report review), I mentioned that it’s a good idea to check your credit report as well, to make sure no one has opened a credit card in your name that you don’t know about.
It became immediately clear that both friends a) did not know what a credit report was and thought I was referencing a credit score, and b) did not understand that someone could open a credit card in your name without you knowing about it. I then attempted to explain to them what a credit report was — “It’s a good place to check your whole credit history, make sure your loan information and credit cards are listed properly, etc.” — without going into too many specifics because they were clearly bored to tears.
This alarmed me in the way I am always alarmed when I learn that someone hasn’t been checking their credit report, because I immediately wonder what potential horrors are going on in their credit history that they know nothing about. For instance, I once checked a credit report only to find that a student loan I had paid off was still listed as “outstanding,” and immediately contacted the credit company to report the error. It was remedied, but what if I hadn’t caught it? It would have continued to affect my credit score without my knowledge.
Of course, these friends were only minimally aware of what a credit score is — “I think mine is zero?” one said — and I couldn’t help but think how useful it would be to have some kind of mandated personal finance course in college or high school to explain these sorts of topics. Whenever I encounter millennials who seem to regard personal finance as this strange and impossible topic, I wonder what we can do to solve the problem, and at least in this instance, prove that checking your credit report needn’t be this amazingly difficult task.
What are your suggestions for making people more informed on personal finance basics?