Need financial advice? Feds have 50 different financial literacy programs

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Where can a consumer find information on financial decision-making? It turns out the federal government has more than 50 financial literacy programs spread across 20 different agencies.

The Government Accountability Office said the multitude of programs and administrators increased the likelihood for fragmentation and duplication. Even if the intent was to let each agency focus its financial literacy programs on a specific population, it opens the door for inefficiency, redundancy and lack of coordination.

For example, the Dodd-Frank Act established a financial education office within the newly created Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection to help consumers get information on financial counseling, long-term savings strategies and credit products. But these duties are very similar to an already existing agency, the Office of Financial Education and Financial Access, at the Department of Treasury.

Treasury also acknowledged that there is no estimate of the total federal spending for financial education programs.

Information about the effectiveness of these programs and strategies is almost non-existent, GAO said. Some federal programs, like the FDIC’s Money Smart, include an evaluation component as part of the program, but many do not.

Despite the challenges, GAO emphasized the need for continued financial education.

“The recent financial crisis revealed that many borrowers likely did not fully understand the risks associated with alternative mortgage products, resulting in substantial increases in defaults and foreclosures that continue to expose borrowers to financial risk and be a drag on the economy today,” the GAO report said.

FAST FACT: Many Americans lack money-managing basics. A 2010 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling revealed that one-third of American are not saving for retirement, and a majority of consumers do not even have a budget. 

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