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How financial literacy can affect your kids' homeownership decisions

Many parents are now homeschooling their children for the foreseeable future, and it's virtually impossible to overstate the importance of literacy. The ability to read and write serves as the building blocks to ongoing education, and the earlier parents help their children learn their ABC's, the better off they're likely to be as they grow older.

Similarly as crucial is financial literacy. In many ways, it's the foundation to personal economic prosperity and can provide young people with the intellectual ammunition to make smart, well-informed money-related decisions in their teenage years and into adulthood, including choices that relate to homeownership.

However, based on the infrequency with which financial literacy is taught in many of the country's schools, many students lack the solid grounding they need to succeed. Take this homeschooling opportunity to teach your children basics of personal finance, from looking over a budget, to writing a check and balancing a checkbook.

In the United States at large, only public high schools in just five states - Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Alabama - require students to take personal finance courses, according to statistics compiled by Visual Capitalist. That's the equivalent of only 16% of students overall who must successfully complete personal finance-related curriculum to graduate, a rate that drops to a mere 8.6% when excluding the aforementioned states.

What does financial literacy mean?

As the National Financial Educators Council defines it, financial literacy is the ability to comprehend how money works, both in the macro sense - the world economy, for example - as well as the micro, such as being able to maintain a budget, write a check or understand how interest works.

But financial literacy goes well beyond these basic fundamentals. It also applies to saving. For example, while most Americans anticipate retiring at some point in their lives, their ability to actually do that is almost entirely dependent on building the economic resources they need to draw from to finance the costs of day-to-day living. According to polling conducted by Gallup, more than half of Americans in the workforce at the time of the poll believed they would be able to retire comfortably. Of these individuals, roughly 1 in 3 said they would rely on Social Security as a major source of income.

However, with the worker to beneficiary ratio at 2.8 to 1 - meaning around three people are paying into Social Security for every person drawing from it - most financial experts agree that retirees will not be able to live comfortably off of Social Security income alone.

Of course, well before determining when to retire are decisions about homeownership. For most people, buying a home is the biggest purchase they make in their lives, as the current median in the country overall stands at approximately $274,500, according to recent statistics available from the National Association of Realtors. Aside from the creature comforts that derive from buying a house, homeownership comes with a variety of short-term and long-term advantages. Chief among them is equity, meaning the valuation of a property. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, more than 14 million homeowners in the third quarter of 2019 in the U.S. were considered equity-rich. Being in a state of positive equity typically enables homeowners to sell their house for a higher selling price than they purchased it for and to apply for certain types of loan products, like home equity loans or home equity lines of credit (HELOC).

While most polls illustrate that young people want to become homeowners and take advantage of these perks, some of their financial decisions are preventing that from happening. For example, as a survey from Zillow showed, approximately 50% of Americans who currently rent are unable to purchase a home because of student loan debt. The same goes for 39% of buyers, meaning that unpaid tuition is delaying them from moving on from a starter home.

Of course, serious debt - which can come in many forms - isn't necessarily a function of poor financial literacy. Things happen over the course of a lifetime that can't be avoided, like medical emergencies and sudden job loss. Yet at the same time, a firm grounding in the fundamentals of money management can make overcoming life's adversities easier.

Financial literacy can also help individuals decide between whether they should rent an apartment or buy a home. According to estimates from Zillow, in the last decade, tenants spent a combined $4.5 trillion in monthly rent. To give this figure some context, that's a larger amount than the gross domestic product of Germany and the market value of Alphabet - which owns Google - Apple, Microsoft and Amazon - combined!

Because there are no down payments or ongoing maintenance costs that come with renting, it can seem like it makes the most sense from a cost perspective. More often than not, though, buying a home is the better bargain. Indeed, as ATTOM Data Solutions found, it's cheaper to purchase a three-bedroom house than a three-bedroom unit in more than half of the country, or in 455 of the 855 counties that were analyzed.

Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data Solutions, said that even though sticker prices are higher these days, homeownership beats renting in the lion's share of the U.S.

"Owning a home can still be the more affordable option, even as prices keep rising," Teta explained.

Given the importance of financial literacy, you may be wondering what you as a parent or guardian can do to improve your children's understanding of money and how they manage it. Here are a few suggestions, as recommended by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority:

Consult with your child's school

Depending on their age, your kids spent much of their day within the four walls of a classroom, learning about math, science, history and the like. But what, specifically, are they learning about as it pertains to finances? You may want to ask about that the next time you connect with their teacher(s). If the school isn't adopting some of the lessons you'd like them to, consider reaching out to the school board or PTA to see what can be done to include more financial literacy-related material in the curriculum.

Talk to your kids about money

How you interact with your children in terms of their ongoing education will play a key role in their interests as they grow and develop. Depending on their age, you should talk to them about the value of a dollar and introduce concepts that they'll be able to understand. For instance, if they're in junior high, you may want to discuss the principles of saving, investing, or how interest works for financial products like credit cards or savings accounts. If they're in high school, you may want to introduce slightly more complicated concepts like what a mortgage is or how credit works.

Show them a credit report

Credit, in many ways, is the financial equivalent of your reputation. And a credit report allows lenders to see how effective you are with money management. Your kids may not know how credit works or how to interpret a credit report, so consider showing them one. Again, how in depth you go will largely depend on their age, but it never hurts to provide them with some of the basics, like how credit scores are determined. FICO® has some helpful resources, blogs, charts and short videos available at its website.

Much like a well-built house, your children's ability to learn and grow depends on a solid foundation. You can lay down the necessary groundwork by making their financial literacy a priority.