Financial Literacy Task Force to talk to Canadians about savings, debt education

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TORONTO - Canada's Task Force on Financial Literacy is launching a series of cross-country conversations with Canadians about savings, debt, and their overall financial know-how as it drafts a national strategy to create more financially educated citizens.

The task force will release its "Leveraging Excellence" consultation document Monday as a starting point to discuss issues including managing debt, saving and investing, retirement planning and preventing fraud.
"The task force wants to hear from as many interested Canadians as possible," said Sun Life Financial CEO Donald Stewart, chairman of the task force. "We look forward to receiving the input of citizens and organizations as we travel across the country."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty set up the group in June, citing his belief that improving Canadians' knowledge of financial matters would contribute to a more stable economy.
The task force's 13 members have since studied programs at home and abroad, searching for ideas on educating consumers and allowing them to build the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to make responsible financial choices.
Socio-economic change has meant Canadians will become increasingly responsible for their financial futures, while the financial marketplace is becoming more complex, Stewart wrote.
He added that the impact of the recent economic downturn on Canadian's financial security has highlighted the need for greater financial savvy.
Personal debt levels have risen astronomically in the past decade, while personal saving rates have dropped from a post-war high in the 1980s, as people borrow more to support their lifestyles and credit becomes easier to obtain.
The public consultation phase is expected to be completed in time for the group to deliver an action plan to the finance minister in December.
Laurie Campbell, executive director at Credit Canada and a member of the task force, said she hopes the consultation process will resonate with Canadians and the strategy developed will encourage everyone to become more engaged in their finances.
She said she works with people on a daily basis who don't understand interest rates, or their credit card statements, and who lack money management skills.
"People just don't know the basics. This is very concerning, because with that basic information they can get out of serious financial difficulties and make sure (a credit crisis) doesn't happen again."
In the first nationwide survey on financial capability, Statistics Canada found nearly one-quarter of Canadians were weak in three key areas - keeping track of their finances, planning ahead and staying informed.
Campbell said there is a growing awareness of the need for better money management.
"Financial literacy is a hot topic, people are very interested in it, I think there's a real desire... to see this happen."
Many disparate financial literacy programs already exist across Canada, but the task force said consumers must navigate a complex maze of regulators, jurisdictions and financial providers to get information. The task force aims to bring Canadian programs, as well as best practices from around the world under the umbrella of a national cohesive strategy.
The plan is set to include strategies for various segments of the population, ways to leverage existing resources to enhance and promote financial literacy, as well as identifying appropriate timelines and milestones for achievement.
Canadians will have an opportunity to speak about their financial needs and goals, starting in Vancouver and Yellowknife April 6 and ending in Ottawa May 13. Canadians can also mail, fax and email their ideas and discuss finances online until April 30.
Questions the document poses range from: "What can be done to encourage Canadians to plan and prepare for retirement at an earlier age?" to "What changes do you believe could be made to help people make more informed choices when it comes to debt and borrowing?"

Organizations: Financial Literacy, Sun Life Financial, Credit Canada Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Canada, TORONTO, Vancouver Yellowknife Ottawa

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