The young people set to graduate this spring will soon be facing adult financial responsibilities, like earning paychecks, paying bills and managing their debts.
But many of these graduates already have advanced degrees from the School of Hard Knocks. Over the past four years, the Class of 2011 has lived through the nation's toughest economic period since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Many students have watched their parents lose jobs — and even homes. Now it's time for this next generation to begin building a better financial foundation for themselves.
It won't be easy for many to get started; student loan debt now surpasses all credit card debt in this country. On the other hand, young Americans have access to better tools for tracking their money, from electronic spreadsheets to budgeting Web sites to mobile banking options.
In addition, many school districts are offering classes in financial literacy. For example, high school teachers and volunteers are trying to help teenagers understand the complex bills sent out by telecom companies offering "bundles" for TV-phone-internet service. But these bundled bills can be so confusing that consumers can't comparison shop for good deals.
Improving financial literacy — the ability to understand bills and financial statements — is an important step that can help young people avoid the mistakes of their parents' generation.
This week on Morning Edition, NPR will be airing Money Counts: Young Adults And Financial Literacy, a five-day series examining the relationship between young people and their finances.
Monday, May 16
There's no lack of effort to make Americans better at managing their finances: No less than 56 agencies purport to address the problem of financial literacy. But is it working? Current college students share their experiences with college loan debt, credit cards, balancing checkbooks and spending management. As high school grads prepare to join the workforce or navigate the daunting world of college loans, they also face choices about debt that could be with them for years or decades to come. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
Tuesday, May 17
Getting Them Young
Teaching kids young might help instill values early. A program in the Fairfax County, Va., school system teaches middle schoolers the basics of finances and then places them in role-playing scenarios to illustrate the value of their choices. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
Wednesday, May 18
The Tech Impact
Tech-savvy young people have apps and websites like Mint.com to track their money. Many have seen their parents get into mortgage and credit card trouble and want to use these new tools to keep their finances straight. They can go paperless and never see a checkbook or they can swipe phones to make purchases, which makes finances easier — but it can be potentially more dangerous. NPR's Zoe Chace reports.
Thursday, May 19
Learning Through Pain
What happens to a family when it gets way behind? Does it galvanize the young generation to do better, or do old problems snowball? NPR's Chris Arnold returns to a family profiled throughout the mortgage crisis to check in with the kids and see how being underwater affected their financial decision making.
Athletes And Their Money
What kid hasn't dreamed of being in the big leagues? Many young pro athletes make huge amounts of money, but still manage to go broke. NPR's Mike Pesca profiles one athlete who made bank, lost it, and had to change.
Friday, May 20
Money And Vets
Members of the military are deployed for long periods and face unique challenges at home. They are often aggressively targeted by those offering high-interest rate loans and too-good-to-be-true deals on cars. When financial troubles get really bad, they can't exactly change jobs. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Fiedler reports.
For many 20-somethings, financial independence marks their arrival at adulthood. But it can be a hard place to get to if you're also shouldering a lot of debt. Personal finance expert Beth Kobliner offers some advice.