Over the last three months, Americans nationwide have opened their news source to find at least one article published daily on the proposed tax overhaul. And while the projected tax reform has spurred an abundance of articles detailing different elements of the tax reform plan, a common theme consistently remains as the basis of these writings. How does the tax reform plan affect the American family.
Correlations between personal tax liability and differing variables — such as occupation, homeownership, and income level — have become increasingly popular reads. The popularity of tax legislative knowledge and personal reflection articles is exposing a fear ignited in Americans of the unknown change in tax legislation and the potential detrimental financial effects. This fear, while originating from tax reform, is an assessment of our nation’s bigger issue, the lack of financial wellness.
Generally speaking, financial wellness is a state of being where one can make decisions focused on enjoyment of life, rather than immediate or upcoming financial obligations. Unfortunately, based on this definition, many Americans would not be considered financial well. According to WalletHub, the 2016 credit card debt trends increased 6 percent in the past year, reflecting the average American family owing $8,377. And while credit card debt continues to increase to levels pre-Great Recession, 60 percent of adults admit to not having a budget, according to a U.S. Bank study. Not only does constructing a budget create a financial plan to eradicate debt, budgets aid in long-range planning, such as savings, investing, and retirement. Findings from The American College of Financial Services’ Retirement Income Literacy Survey reflected that four out of five Americans failed when quizzed on how to make their nest eggs last.
So, while this data presents some general issues with financial wherewithal, the same individuals in this survey are now being presented with tax legislation that could increase their tax liability. And if this situation was not frightening enough, additional uncorrelated trends are impressing upon Americans the need to become more financially literate. Employers have gravitated from offering pension plans to 401(k) savings plans, allowing employees to contribute a portion of their wages to a retirement account. Social security, a government aid to retirement, is becoming depleted while failing to keep up with inflation trends. Additionally, Americans are just living longer. A longer life span requires additional savings than prior generations. However, according to Vanguard’s 2016 How America Saves report, the median 401(k) balance for the age group of 55-64 is $71,579. Given the 4 percent rule, that a nest egg over $1 million would finance an average lifestyle, the median individual would have $2,863 a year to live on in retirement.
With this lack of financial wellness, financial literacy is one of our nation’s biggest issues and it is being ignored. Currently, financial literacy methodologies employed include either an adult voluntarily educating oneself or parents educating their children within their own household. While those methods are successful to those choosing to employ them, a growing deficit in financial education is occurring among the most vulnerable economic groups.
Due to the magnitude of financial literacy needs across varying age groups and demographics, a comprehensive strategy supported by regulation is essential. A well-resourced financial literacy program needs to be introduced to students within the K-12 environment, no later than when students are selecting their predicted career or academic pathway. Second, personal finance courses should be offered at least as a continuing education class with an emphasis on application. Third, the education of financial literacy should exceed the boundaries of higher education and connect to employment. Tax incentives for businesses to aid employees in financial health in conjunction with state programs at unemployment offices could reach those individuals in the middle of their working career or those coming upon retirement.
Regardless of whether this recommended strategy or another is utilized, we need to recognize that the lack of financial wellness is not an individual problem, but a national problem to which we have an obligation to resolve.
Shannon Cornelison-Brown teaches business and economics at Austin College in Sherman and is a practicing CPA. This article represents her individual views, not those of Austin College. She can be contacted at email@example.com.