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Fixing school leavers’ ‘fin lit’ gap

09:10am June 06 2018

University student and part-time worker Dan Lukic at his Sydney home. (Emma Foster)

Like many teens, Dan Lukic admits some money-related decisions that come with earning a pay cheque remain a mystery.

“I know I’ll need to put in a tax return, and I know the basics of superannuation, but I’m not too sure how it all works,” said the 19-year-old university student who works part-time at a local swimming centre.

Lukic is by no means alone.

Around 71 per cent of 15 to 20 year olds in Australia are worried about their ability to make sound financial decisions, according to findings released today by Westpac. More than half also said they don’t feel prepared or confident to fill out a tax return, understand superannuation or apply for a loan.

This doesn’t surprise Saxon Phipps, co-founder of Year13, a digital platform to help young people transition into life after school, which today launched a free online financial literacy – or “fin lit” – program.  

“When young people get their first job, it can be incredibly confusing,” said Phipps, recalling the time he was “stung badly” after he made a mistake on his first tax return and received a fine that was more than he’d earned.   

Older generations may be thinking this is not a new phenomenon.

But today’s young people make financial decisions at a much earlier age and in a “vastly more complex financial landscape” than their parents, according to 2014 research by Melbourne Law School, which also noted they’re more likely to be targeted by advertising and commercial pressures.

Saxon Phipps (top right) with the Year13 team. (Supplied)

The last three decades have seen the entry of easier access to credit; superannuation and the need to self-fund retirement; more peer-to-peer lenders and online banks; more ways to pay but less cash to touch; and a greater range of financial products. At the same time, the cost of living has risen and housing affordability has declined – all of which requires deft financial management.

While maths skills are a bonus, good money management relies on other basic knowledge, like the ability to interpret contracts for mobile phones, and information about taxes and paying bills, according to Phipps.

“But the education system hasn’t adapted to the modern day young person,” said Phipps, who co-founded Year13 in 2012 aged 21 and has seen site visits grow to 150,000 per month.  

He said a survey of Year13 users for the upcoming “2018 After ATAR” report showed 91 per cent thought schools could better set them up for success in society by offering financial help, indicating the vast majority were keen to learn but it was absent from their schooling.  

Phipps said Year 13’s new “Fin Lit” program, developed over two years, was tailored around user feedback and covers topics such as employment, making big purchases and moving out.

“I want our Fin Lit program to be the stepping stone for young people to understand their finances, and empower them to make decisions that are right for them whether they’re saving to go back-packing or choosing a super fund,” he said.

Westpac is the principal sponsor of Year 13’s ‘Fin Lit’ financial literacy program.

Emma Foster is a freelance writer. Previously, she led Westpac Wire and was a key contributor until December 2022. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she spent almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK and Europe. She is also a photographer and podcaster.

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