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Gallagher, Industry Partners Launch Statewide Financial Education Initiative


CONTACT: Tami Torres
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE - Most Floridians are financially conservative, but a significant number put themselves at financial risk by waiting too late to save, running up debt and other practices, a new statewide survey shows. At a press conference today, Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said the survey underscores the need for a comprehensive financial education effort aimed at all ages and incomes.

"This survey shows there is a great unmet need among Floridians for clear information on how to manage money, save and avoid debt," CFO Gallagher said, in launching "Your Money, Your Life," a statewide public education initiative formed in cooperation with financial industry groups and the Allstate Foundation.

The Your Money, Your Life initiative is being privately funded by the Allstate Foundation with support from the Florida Department of Financial Services, Florida Council on Economic Education, Florida Insurance Council, Florida Bankers Association and the Florida Credit Union League. The initiative includes public outreach, a media campaign, and one of the most comprehensive Web sites on personal financial matters yet created for Floridians.

Also joining Gallagher at the press conference today was Christina Nelson, a senior attending Florida State University, who said that she often goes on-line to gather information before making major purchases or for financial advice. Nelson applauded the CFO for promoting access to information that she believes will help her and her friends make better financial decisions.

Among the findings of the survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, are:

· About one in five Floridians has suffered a financial crisis due to job loss, divorce or illness, yet most say they don't contribute regularly to an emergency reserve fund.

· The number one money concern of Floridians is having enough money to retire, yet one in four puts nothing aside for retirement each month and an equal number waits until their 40s or 50s to begin saving for retirement.

· Less than half of those under 35 invest.

· Only 44 percent of those with children have started saving for college.

· More than a third of Floridians under age 50 say they are "living from paycheck to paycheck."

· 76 percent have started no new investments this year, and 78 percent have not added significantly to existing investments.

Lower income Floridians face particular challenges. Of Floridians earning less than $25,000, one in five has filed for bankruptcy. As a group, they are half as likely to invest at all as those earning $50,000 or more, and they are more likely to have suffered a financial crisis due to job loss, injury or medical expenses. Yet, three of four Floridians earning less than $25,000 fail to set aside money in an emergency reserve fund.

For that reason, Gallagher said the Your Money, Your Life website can specifically be of help to lower income Floridians in need of information on how to stretch limited budgets, avoid debt and build assets, including savings and home ownership.

"Floridians who struggle to get by financially need the most help," Gallagher said. "We need to make a special effort to arm lower-income Floridians with smart strategies to lower their taxes and expenses in ways that let them grow savings, avoid spiraling debt, and move toward home ownership."

Debt is a problem for many Floridians, according to the survey. One in four Floridians reports more debt than savings. One in three carries credit card debt forward from month to month and reports credit card debt of more than $5,000. The only thing most Floridians own debt free is a car, a depreciating asset.

At the same time, the survey shows that one in three Floridians has less than $5,000 in savings, and one in five has less than $2,000 saved.

"More than 80 percent of Floridians hold credit cards and many report having as many as two to 10 cards, with debts of between $2,000 and $20,000," observed Bethany H. Corum, executive vice president of the Florida Bankers Association. "One of our chief aims through Your Money, Your Life is to encourage people to spend responsibly and avoid getting in over their heads."

Gallagher said the Your Money, Your Life Web site will be helpful to retirees, families with children, workers and students, providing information on everything from the benefits of beginning to save money while you are young to tips on home buying, investments and insurance. The site, in both English and Spanish, features eight custom-built calculators to help individuals figure such things as loan repayment schedules or determine their personal investing styles and whether they're saving enough money for retirement.

He said the initiative also helps reinforce the basics of money management, such as closely checking credit card bills and bank statements. The survey found that while nearly all Floridians say they review their credit card statements, one in 10 does not review his or her monthly bank statement.

"Armed with information, Floridians can do more with their money at every age and income level," said Ryan Priest of the Allstate Foundation. "We are proud to sponsor this initiative to help fill a critical void and help Floridians make the best decisions on the money matters that most affect their lives."

The Mason-Dixon survey also found that interests run high statewide in providing Florida's young with a solid education in personal finances. Nearly 90 percent of Floridians believe schools should make teaching financial management skills a required part of the curriculum.

"I know this is an especially important, long-standing issue to the CFO and it's certainly important to us," said Jennifer Thomas, vice president of the Florida Council on Economic Education. "The Florida Council on Economic Education has been actively working with the Florida Department of Financial Services to develop classroom experiences that help students across the spectrum develop these skills."

"The Your Money, Your Life initiative dovetails with those school room efforts and, just as importantly, gives families of students a way to get involved," said Gallagher. Gallagher also said that department staff across the state will be joining the Council in doing presentations in many public schools to help teach basic financial management skills to Florida students.

The Your Money, Your Life survey of adult Floridians was conducted June 15-17 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. and can be viewed in its entirety at