Utahns have a discreditable legacy of high bankruptcy rates and excessive debt. Personal finance experts became increasingly concerned about the future economic prosperity of Utahns in the early 2000s. They joined forces with teachers, community advocates and legislators to pass legislation in 2003 requiring high school students to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate. Utah’s class of 2008 was the first in the country to graduate under that mandate. 

Since the graduation mandate was implemented, public officials, educators and community partners have worked together to strengthen and improve upon it. Consequently, Utah is seen as a leader in the nation for financial education. Twenty-two states have followed our lead in requiring high school students to take a personal finance course.

A performance review conducted by the Utah auditor and treasurer in 2018 found that adults who took Utah’s mandated financial literacy course in high school appear to have better financial knowledge and make better financial choices than those who did not take the course (because they are not from Utah or graduated before the course was required). 

While the progress has been positive, there’s still much room for improvement. Utah is fourth in the nation for bankruptcy. Average consumer debt in the Beehive State was well over the national average at $114,293 in 2021, and a separate study indicates we have the worst debt-to-salary ratio in the country. 

Financial education is a top priority for us respectively as the state treasurer and the CEO of the Utah Association of CPAs and chair of the Utah Financial Empowerment Coalition. We have a number of initiatives designed to empower Utahns with financial knowledge and skills, starting in elementary school and going through retirement.

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We work closely with the Utah State Board of Education to review and revise the Strands and Standards and end-of-course exam. We’re currently working on a project with the board of education to overhaul the Finance in the Classroom resource for teachers to bring it up to date. We’re also exploring the possibility of hosting student-led community nights next spring, where students will lead community discussions and lessons on some of the financial topics they cover in the financial literacy class. 

In addition, the Office of State Treasurer and the Utah Financial Empowerment Coalition just launched a new statewide investment challenge for students in grades 4-12, as a replacement for the Stock Market Game, which since 2018 had been administered by our organizations. The Utah Treasurer’s Investment Challenge is funded by donations from community partners, and there is no cost to teachers or their schools for students to participate. This is a great program to familiarize young students with investment and economic concepts they can begin using now. The sooner a person starts investing, the more time they have to grow wealth and recover from market downturns. 

We also support a number of efforts to promote financial education among adults. Five years ago, we were made aware of a need to support the financial empowerment of Utah women and launched an annual Utah Women in the Money Conference.

Women face some unique financial situations. Statistically, they live longer than men and are more likely to outlive their assets. Women are also more likely to assume caretaker responsibilities, teach their children about money and help elderly or disabled loved ones manage their finances. Additionally, women are increasingly playing a greater role in the workforce and market. More than 40% of American women are the primary breadwinners in their households, and women account for 70%-80% of overall consumer spending.

This year’s conference will take place on Thursday, Sept. 28 from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. and Friday, Sept. 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with options to attend in person or virtually. Registration for the in-person conference is $15 for Thursday and $25 for Friday, or $35 for both Thursday and Friday. Scholarships are available for those in need. There is no cost to attend the conference virtually, but registration is still required. For more information and to register for the conference, visit womeninthemoney.org.

The state treasurer chairs a council of more than 50 public and private entities that share a common mission to improve the financial well-being of Utahns. That group addresses various issues related to personal finance as they arise. To learn more about the Office of State Treasurer’s financial empowerment initiatives, visit treasurer.utah.gov/utahfe.

Utah has come a long way in empowering its residents to be financially resilient, but the state still has a long way to go. We are eager and passionate to continue pushing forward initiatives to help Utahns help themselves build financial security and success.

Marlo Oaks is the state treasurer of Utah. Susan Speirs is the CEO of the Utah Association of CPAs and Chair of the Utah Financial Empowerment Coalition.