State societies, AICPA work to provide guidance amidst crisis

As the current financial crisis continues to devastate portfolios and prompt legions of Baby Boomers to rethink retirement, the escalating calls for financial literacy programs and education services have kept various state CPA societies hustling to keep pace with demand.

Topics such as helping restore delinquent mortgages, transitioning between jobs after a layoff, and managing credit card debt have taken center stage on the curricula of financial literacy committees as the U.S. struggles with the recession.

"Every time I speak, I open my presentation by pointing out that this economy is the case study for having personal financial education," said Carl George, chair of the American Institute of CPAs' 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program. "This is the reason we should have had this in grade school and high school." George, who stepped down in June as chief executive at Clifton Gunderson after 16 years, has chaired the program since 2004.

In addition to the 360 Degrees program, whose site (www.360finan­cialliteracy.org) averages roughly 150,000 hits a month, the AICPA two years ago launched its "Feed the Pig" campaign (www.feedthepig.org), an effort to help those between the ages of 24 and 35 take control of their finances.

"I'm most frequently asked things such as, 'What do I do if I lose my job?' or 'How will I make my mortgage payments if that happens?'" George said. "I tell them you will not solve these problems overnight, but you will need to change your habits."

To help address the current mortgage debacle for consumers, Kenneth B. Shapiro, CPA, who chairs the Financial Literacy Committee for the New Jersey Society of CPAs, said that the society recently held seminars where it brought in a panel of mortgage consultants who addressed attendees' concerns and questions about foreclosure and mounting debt.

Shapiro said that the society has also worked with a number of outplacement firms helping to guide those who have suddenly found themselves unemployed on how to manage their financials.

"We've featured podcasts about the use of credit cards," said Shapiro who explained that the society's financial literacy program (www.moneymattersnj.com/) began eight years ago, as an outgrowth of helping local victims of 9-11 with their settlement proceeds. "We're certainly busier now [since the crisis]," he said.

"Since the economy's decline, we've noticed a significant increase in organizations that want to hold financial literacy events for their constituents," reported Bruce Kajiwara, CPA/PFS, CFP, of Sacramento-based Financial Network Investment Corp. Kajiwara heads the financial literacy effort for the California Society of CPAs. "That includes legislators, libraries, public schools and nonprofits."

Kajiwara explained that one of the areas that has particularly increased since the onset of the recession is CalCPA's "Financial Smarts for Teachers" program, which it presents in conjunction with California Jump$tart and the California Council on Economic Education. In the program, CalCPA volunteers stage four-hour presentations to teachers covering such topics as saving and investing, home ownership, and retirement.

In Rogers, Minn., Lisa Baskfield, CPA, of Baskfield & Associates, has for two years spearheaded the financial education component for "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," a program designed to re-integrate Minnesota-based military reservists back into their communities.

The program initially offered workshops on basic strategies such as living within your budget, and has since evolved to additional topics such as interest-rate reductions when soldiers are deployed, what credit card scores mean, and what to do in the event a soldier loses their job while called to duty.

More recently, she was asked to put together a workshop centering on investments, which will be held in October. "I try to make it relevant to my audience. You might have a two-star general who is more soph­isticated about investments than a 22-year-old enlisted person."

Baskfield estimates that her workshops have reached roughly 1,500 soldiers, a total that should exceed 2,000 by the end of the year. She said that the program is gaining traction in other states as well.

At the 8,700-member Virginia Society of CPAs, the organization's financial literacy efforts during the crisis have addressed such questions as whether crisis-impacted workers should borrow from their company retirement program, when you should file bankruptcy, and how to explain to children why their parents have lost their jobs.

"We have definitely been foc­used on getting that message out there," said VSCPA public relations specialist Shawnte Reynolds. The organization launched its financial literacy program, Financial Fitness (www.financialfitness.org) five years ago.

Said the AICPA's George, "I also urge people who are struggling to see a CPA. A lot of them will help them gratis. You spend an hour with them, you'll get peace of mind and a method to this madness."

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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