Empowering Youth Through Financial Planning
Chloe spoke with Lyn Haralson, a financial education program analyst for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Lyn explains how her job allows her to engage with youth and help them understand financial capability and well-being. Chloe and Lyn's conversation explores finances and how youth can get a head start on financial planning.
Disclaimer: the information shared here reflects the opinions of the host and interviewee and do not reflect the views of the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
Chloe: Hi, welcome to Youth Engaged 4 Change Radio, where we seek to empower and inform youth listeners just like you. I'm your host, Chloe. Today, we'll be talking to Lyn Haralson, to learn what it's like to be a financial education program analyst for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, also known as the CFPB. Lynn conducts outreach to schools, communities and parent organizations on youth financial education resources, research and policy.
Lyn Haralson: I currently work for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is a fairly new Federal agency, we're only 10 years old. My focus of my career is to conduct outreach to schools, communities and parent organizations on behalf of the CFPB youth financial education resources, research and policy, to help build youth financial capability in order to put youth on the path to financial wellbeing in adulthood.
Chloe: That sounds really interesting. Can you tell us a little bit more of what exactly do you do, what resources you use to educate these young people about financial capability?
Lyn Haralson: Absolutely. We started our work into figuring out adult financial wellbeing. So, what brings about adult financial wellbeing? And then, at that point, we wanted to go back into our youth years and figure out what skills, knowledge, habits that our kids need to start building, over the time that they are in school. That is where our building blocks of youth financial capability were developed.
Lyn Haralson: Financial capability, everybody pretty much knows what that is. It's based on the knowledge, skills, and access, and the ability to manage financial resources effectively. Financial wellbeing is very different, but it's an important component.
So financial wellbeing is a state in which the person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, can feel secure in their financial future, is able to make choices that allow them to enjoy life. It's not really about how much you earn, it's really about managing the resources based on what you earn to create that financial wellbeing and peace of mind.
Chloe: Okay. So while you were going around educating these youth on financial capability and all these resources, did you see a consistent problem that's really prevalent in youth that you think needs to be addressed more often?
Lyn Haralson: We've certainly done our research, we've done listening sessions on this topic. We've really tried to drill down, and we've done surveys, the PISA international survey which measures financial capability of 15-year olds internationally. And then, we drilled down into that data to really try to figure out what's going on. We are disturbed that children of people of color, children that are from lower socioeconomic homes do not fare as well on the test, as much as 40 to 60 points lower. So the question then is, is the classroom the best place for that, for them to get that knowledge and skills? Are there other places that we can engage with, that could get that transfer of knowledge?
And then, really thinking about the individual child, helping them build what we call a money circle. If your parents are not well-versed in financial capability and their own financial wellbeing is not great, they can provide you some learning but they can't provide you probably at the level you need. So looking around, who creates your money circle? Is a peer, is it a peer's parent, is it your teacher? So really expanding on who helps a child achieve financial capability and really absorb this knowledge.
Lyn Haralson: So that's where we're at in this process.
Chloe: What builds that youth's money circle, right?
Lyn Haralson: So children in three to five years old up to middle school, they're trying to develop something called executive function. That's not necessarily a financial concept, but it plays a huge role in how we're able to delay our gratification, plan for what we want, we don't just impulse purchase, things like that. That is really critical in that, starting at age three.
And then, as we move into the middle grades, we're wanting to see kids start developing their habits and norms. So really, understanding and developing their own habits and norms of behavior. And then, as they get into high school, we're hoping that they both have the ability to experiment, under the supervision maybe of a parent or guardian, to try out their skills, and their habits and norms, and really experiment. Have a bank account, have a savings account.
Chloe: Okay. While you were educating a lot of youth nationwide about financial resources, and money circles and various financial concepts like that, have you ever had an instance where you felt like you were truly making a difference in a youth's life?
Lyn Haralson: I will, I will describe that very well.
When I was in Arkansas, the Federal Reserve staff and I worked with the Pulaski County and we did a summer program in which we taught financial concepts to youth. These were at-risk youth, these were youth that maybe had been in the juvenile justice system or were foster youth, so they just didn't have the support system maybe in place that they needed. Or, like I said, the parents or guardians were not well versed themselves. Taking the students through that week and seeing them first ... As you know, most kids in a summer program are bored and they're acting up. By day two they were coming back in, talking about the concepts. By the end of the week, they could really feed me back some of the things, and ask really, really I felt like were knowledge-seeking questions to me. I felt like that was just huge.
At the Bureau, we are looking more at working with intermediaries. So we have a set of youth financial education activities that any teacher, regardless of whether ... We're not looking for experts in finance to teach our activities. We're looking to embed those activities in art, in PE. So you can look at our activities and see, "Hey, I'm a PE teacher but I'd like to incorporate this." Or, "I'm an after school program. How can I use those resources to get this into the hands of youth?"
Chloe: You said a lot of different ways to engage youth in learning more about finance. Have you ever seen those particular things be implemented in schools? And if so, what way were they implemented? Because I live in New Jersey and we have to take this financial literacy course in high school, it's mandatory. In that class, we just basically read about bills, adjusted gross income, all those financial things. But, we also engaged in this investment simulation where we invested in stocks, but we weren't doing it with actual money. Yeah, learning the concept of investments, so that was really fun. I was wondering if you've seen instances where schools tried to teach these very important financial concepts to youth in a unique manner?
Lyn Haralson: What you're describing is the stock market game.
Lyn Haralson: And it comes out of the Security Exchange Commission. That really aligns very well with what I was saying, is for kids to practice their skills. So the executive functioning, the habits and norms that they hopefully have acquired through elementary in middle, they're in high school, they're doing this simulation and it's the opportunity to practice. Again, not with real money.
But, we also know that some kids actually have Bitcoin accounts at this age, at 16, 17 years old. We certainly want them to have enough knowledge and understanding to be able to handle that effectively.
Chloe: Changing gears here a little bit, can you tell us more about your upbringing and your life in rural Arkansas?
Lyn Haralson: Well, I'll tell you what, there are days that I head into DC and it seems very surreal to me. I was a teen mom at 18, and while that doesn't really define me, it is an important part of my story. I grew up in a small, rural community of 5,600 in Arkansas. Most people that hear that are like, "How did you get a job in DC?" It sounds like it's a huge leap, but it really is a very structured progression.
My parents were always dedicated to community services, and they instilled in me that desire to always give back and serve others. I was trying to rush through life. I actually went to college before my senior year of high school, on a Rising Junior program. I graduated high school with 25 credit hours. When I went on to college, my degree, I didn't go with this job in mind at all. When I went to college, I was going to be a geology major and play with rocks. Go on to realize I don't like to get dirty, and this was a dumb idea.
I had decided I would go for accounting. I switched my major, I got an accounting degree. Eventually, over time, I got a Master’s in business administration. None of those are directly related to my job that I have now, but what I think is more important for the youth to know is to understand that we all grow and we all change throughout college, and our career and our lives. When you get at the end of our four years and go, "Oh my goodness, I have a degree that I probably am never going to use," that's not true. You've had all these experiences that got you to where you are.
Yeah, while it's important for your degree to align somewhat with your job, it's really more important, I feel like, for the job that you ultimately to pursue to be aligned with your values, skills and knowledge. So my trajectory to CFPB is, I graduated college with my accounting degree in hand, and one would think, "Oh, she's going to do taxes or she's going to be a CPA." No. I worked for a state agency that did offsite planning and preparations around a nuclear power plant, to plan in case it melted down. That was literally ... So you think, "Oh, that's not related," but it was a state agency.
Lyn Haralson: And from there, I joined a state agency serving rural communities. So you can kind of see the theme here, of my upbringing not so much ... The degrees gave me the knowledge and skills, but the values and all that are coming out from my childhood.
I'll be honest, it was scary, it was exciting and it's still surreal to get on the Metro, ride into DC, or drive into DC, and see the Washington Monument and realize, "Oh my God, I'm a kid from a town of 5,600, and here I am working for this really important agency."
Chloe: So you mentioned earlier on about the knowledge, and values and skills you had, and how that guided you to be where you are, here today at the CFPB. What would you advise to students who are just starting this journey of career exploration today? How would they be able to find their knowledge, skills and values, and a career that would align with those things?
Lyn Haralson: I think it's important to really look at those career choices and do those ... I know when you're in school, it seems a tad lame. But, those interest tools and surveys, and really using those to your advantage. I know they put you through them two or three times, there's a reason for that. That's at least guiding you part way to a direction, so it's narrowing your field of focus so that you're not going into college, "I'll think I'll be geologist but I don't want to get dirty," so that you have some kind of inkling of what direction you want to go.
I joke, I have an accounting degree and an MBA, and I don't use them. That's not true because accounting is all about debits and credits, so I actually use that when reviewing some of our materials, looking at it through that lens and understanding that portion of it. So while my degree may be tangent, I still use so much of the information and knowledge that I got from it.
I think I would just say to really use those surveys, and really be honest with yourself about those. You can't target a multi-million dollar job when your heart is in search. With $1 million, you're still not going to happy and that's hard for kids, I think, to understand. But, it's absolutely true. My husband worked at Arkansas Nuclear One as well and one day he came in and he goes, "I hate this." In his hand was a brochure, and it was to teach elementary school. And all I could think of was that was a third of the pay, that was my first thought. But, over his many year career, I found that okay, he truly has that passion for that.
You can't pursue the dollar signs. You really have to find things that you're so passionate about that everything else pales.
Chloe: Yeah. And, the way that you find your passion would be an interest test, or just maybe even reflecting on what you like and do well in the most, in school or even in extra curriculars.
Lyn Haralson: That's why I went in and got my accounting degree, because I was excellent at math. So yes and no, I would say yes and no.
I think if you have a deep desire, you're like, "I really think I want to do that," seek out that person. Believe it or not, we're very approachable and we love to talk about how we go to where we're at, so approach somebody. If you think you want to be an EMT, ask if you can ride along. If you feel like you want to work at the Bureau, well right now, just to let you know, because we're all virtual we have opted out of the high school and college intern programs for this year only. Part of it is because everybody has a computer out and we don't have those resources. But, we will rejoin that program. There's also an opportunity, when you graduate college, to enter some of our management project analyst programs.
One of the things about being in some of those programs ... You may not have a passion for youth financial education, or think you don't, but when we bring these people in, we rotate them around. They may work in regulations for two or three weeks, they may work in youth fin. ed. They may work in consumer complaints, listening to how our employees handle people that are calling in, in distress. That's a skillset, being able to calm someone down who's having a major crisis. And then, being able to get them to a place where you can transfer knowledge to them, and understanding.
Chloe: Do you have any specific resources, or specific websites even, that can bolster someone’s financial capability or allow them to learn more about it?
Lyn Haralson: Certainly. There's two resources at the Bureau, which I find to be very helpful.
So the CFPB writes everything in plain language. Even though most people looking at a financial document and their eyes cross, all of our terminology that is in our financial terms glossary is written in plain language, all of our resources is written in plain language. It's not going to have a bunch of legalese in it, it's really going to be able to be easily digested, reading around the eighth-grade level. One resource, I would say, is our CFPB Financial Terms Glossary, it is something we have poured over to make sure that it's inclusive. So when students or youth are looking for financial literacy concepts and to understand what something means, it's a great place.
Another place, which I enjoy going to occasionally too, is something called Ask CFPB. Ask CFPB is a searchable database. There are some areas that we know are common, and so those have been pulled out as little sticky pads and you can click on it. Those include things like auto loans, banks accounts, credit cards, credit reports, debt collection. We have over 1000 answers to questions that are commonly asked by consumers and we're constantly updating it.
Chloe: Okay. Thank you so much, Lyn, for your time. Thank you so much for your time.
Lyn Haralson: All right. You guys have a great weekend.
Chloe: And, that's a wrap. We hope you learned more about being a financial education program analyst for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Please follow Youth Engaged 4 Change Radio for more content created by young people for young people. You can also follow Young Engaged 4 Change on Facebook and Instagram, and visit us online at engaged.youth.gov. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.