Consumer Smarts: Promoting Consumer and Financial Literacy for Young Adults



Teenagers spend a great deal of money each year purchasing goods and services. According to the National Consumers League, American teens spend an average of $104 per week in 2001, a total of $172 billion. Students also are accessing credit at an early age. According to a Jump$tart survey, more than 30% of high school seniors nation-wide are using credit cards. A GAO study found that 64% of college students owned at least one credit card in 2001. A 2001 study by Nellie Mae, found that students take on more credit card debt as they progress in college. The percentage of students holding a card goes from 54% in freshman year to 92% in senior year. The average undergraduate student with a credit card owes a balance of $2,748 and, according to the GAO, half of the college students maintaining credit cards can not pay the minimum amount on their balances each month. At the same time, students' financial literacy is low. A survey of high school students conducted by Americans for Consumer Education and Competition found that 82% of the students failed a basic quiz on financial concepts and consumer spending. Many are naive about managing finances and making other consumer transactions.

In response to this problem, the New York State Attorney General created the Consumer Smarts program to promote financial literacy for teenagers.


  • Help ensure students have the skills to be financially competent upon graduation from high school.
  • Prevent young people from finding themselves in serious financial difficulty.
  • Assist youth in avoiding scams and becoming a victim of fraud.


The Office of the Attorney General, partnering with local consumer advocates and working with school staff and students, provides instruction, using various approaches and activities, on several relevant topics including:

  • credit;
  • financial management;
  • car purchasing;
  • telecommunications;
  • housing;
  • telemarketing and scholarship scams;
  • Internet transactions, and,
  • identity theft.

The program guide, divided into subject modules, includes outlines, student learning objectives, vocabulary and resources, and a variety of interactive classroom-based exercises.

Schools may incorporate the program into classroom curriculum through an Assembly or workshop format or by a train-the-trainer approach.


During 2002-2003 school year, the Consumer Smarts program was implemented in three New York high schools where the Office of the Attorney General collaborated with students, school staff, and consumer advocates. In each school, the curriculum of the program was customized to meet the particular needs and interests of the students.

Binghamton High School

On March 26, 2003, a full day was devoted to a consumer program for seniors at Binghamton High School with a focus on identity theft/telemarketing fraud, housing issues, college loans/scholarship scams, credit/financial issues and auto purchasing. The program opening featured an assembly where remarks from the principal, an Assistant Attorney General, and the Student Council President were offered and a skit was performed by drama students. Afterwards, the students attended breakout sessions and participated in a game of "Consumer Survivor". Students and school staff were very pleased with this program which was the subject of a newspaper article and a local television report.

Paul Robeson High School

Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn, New York also devoted a full day to the program on May 20, 2003, and planned for a series of follow-up lessons to reinforce the knowledge acquired. Seniors, juniors, and freshmen received instruction on credit and banking, retail purchasing, budget preparation, student loans, scholarships, car purchasing, and cell phones. Several skits were performed by students in various workshops where the Better Business Bureau, Budget and Counseling Services, Inc., the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Program, and the Office of the Attorney General made presentations. Students and the school staff judged the program to be a success.

Onteora High School

On May 22, 2003, Onteora High School held a Consumer Smarts Senior Summit at the Belleayre Ski Lodge in Highmount, New York for the senior class. The program began with a plenary session featuring remarks from the School District Superintendent and an Assistant Attorney General as well as role playing by students. Seniors then dispersed into small groups participating in morning and afternoon workshops on "Saving and Investing for Young People", "Coping with Freshman Year", "How to Buy a Used Car", "Renters' Rights - Obligations and Survival Strategies", and "Under Attack: Your Privacy and Identity in the Marketplace". Skits were also performed by students on several topics. Because all five topics were offered twice during the day, students had an opportunity to attend two workshops. Given the level of interest in the subject matter, the students recommended that additional workshops be offered next school year.

In addition to the above-described programs, the OAG conducted two train-the-trainer seminars for teachers from Hempstead High School in Nassau County, New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, and Paul Robeson High School.


The Office of the Attorney General is dedicated to expanding the Consumer Smarts program by collaborating with appropriate partners and school teams.

For more information about the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Smarts initiative, please contact: Program Development, Office of the NYS Attorney General, 28 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10005.