Most young people have little confidence in their money management skills and want to learn more, according to a national survey commissioned by Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Co.

In the telephone survey of 1,176 people 12 to 22 years old, 20% said they were "very good" at managing money, and 13% said they were "not good" at it. The interviews were conducted in June and July by Yankelovich Partners Inc. of Norwalk Conn., which sampled households where at least one parent earns $45,000 a year or more.

Some credit card companies, including MasterCard International and Citigroup, have developed school curricula aimed at teaching budgeting and thrift. Perennial debate over the prudence of issuing credit cards to people of high school and college age has fueled interest in such educational programs, and in young people's attitudes.

In the Phoenix survey, 66% of respondents said they were "very" or "somewhat" interested in financial topics, and 74% said schools should teach money management. Forty-three percent of respondents said financial education should begin in high school, and 40% said it should begin in junior high.

Showing that cultural stereotypes die hard, 22% of respondents agreed that "men usually know a lot more than women" about financial decisions and investments. However, boys and girls showed similar levels of understanding when asked to define certain financial terms: 22% of the girls and 21% of the boys were familiar with the concept of "buying on credit"; 17% of boys and 15% of girls knew what a mortgage was; and 16% of boys and 10% of girls correctly defined "inflation."

Half the students in the poll said they expect to be wealthier than their parents, but only 15% said they expected to work harder. The number of students who said they "worry about money a great deal" declined to 46% from 50% in 1996, the first year the survey was done.

By contrast, 56% of this year's respondents categorized themselves as "spenders" rather than "savers," up from 47% in 1996.

"These students are growing up during a period of sustained economic growth, which may perpetuate an assumption of affluence and a false sense of security about the future," said Robert W. Fiondella, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Phoenix Home Life, which is based in Hartford, Conn.

A separate survey, commissioned by American Express Co., found that financial concerns differ greatly from country to country. This survey, conducted by Taylor Nelson-Sofres, a London-based survey firm, included telephone interviews in July and August with 10,349 consumers in 10 countries.

Forty-seven percent of U.S. respondents said their top goal was saving for retirement, and only 15%said their chief concern was unemployment.

But in other countries, unemployment was the main worry: It was named first by 75% of respondents in Hong Kong; 60% of Italians; 45% of those in Singapore; 44% of the French; and 40% of the Japanese.

One theme consistent among countries was the fear of not saving enough. Only in the United Kingdom and India did most consumers say they were saving enough money.

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