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Improving Financial Education in America

Michael Barr, Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the Treasury Department, discusses building a country in which more families have the knowledge, skills, and financial access to make good financial choices

Empowering Americans to make good financial decisions for themselves and their families is necessary to building a financially stronger America.  To meet this goal, we must improve Americans’ understanding of financial products and terms, expand financial access, and provide appropriate and robust consumer protection.  President Obama is committed to building a country in which more families have the knowledge, skills, and financial access to make good financial choices and to establishing the consumer protections that enable and encourage them to do so.

As part of this commitment, President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability (“Council”) and appointed a highly qualified group of men and women from the private and non-profit sectors to advise him on these critical issues. The Council, which will work at the direction of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, will advise the President on how to maximize the effectiveness of existing private and public sector financial education efforts and identify new approaches to increase financial capability for all Americans.

Making sure Americans have the information they need to make smart financial choices is a cornerstone of a number of Administration efforts.  One of the central aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which President Obama signed in to law on July 21, 2010, is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose sole mission is to look out for American consumers and empower them with the clear and concise information they need to make the financial decisions that are best for them and their families.  The Bureau will create a level playing field for all providers of consumer financial products and services, regardless of their charter or corporate form and will ensure high and uniform standards across the market. It will rein in misleading sales pitches and hidden traps, and foster competition on the basis of price and quality.  In addition, it will help lead efforts to increase financial capability by establishing an Office of Financial Education.

The Treasury Department will convene the Council’s first meeting in November with the purpose of laying out its agenda and goals for the upcoming months.  This is another aggressive step forward in building a stronger America.  An America where working hard and playing by the rules means security for our families and hope for our future.  Where firms compete based on price and quality, not tricks and traps.  Where old fashion values of thrift are rewarded and consumers have the knowledge and access to make good choices for themselves and their families.  And where once again America leads the world.

Michael Barr is Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the Treasury Department