A Bankruptcy Judge’s Crusade for Financial Literacy
By Right About Money Staff Report
December 1, 2016
Who better to teach financial literacy than someone that spent two decades witnessing the impact of bad money decisions?
That’s how retired federal bankruptcy judge John C. Ninfo II sees it. Ninfo, who served in the Western District of New York Bankruptcy Court as Chief Judge, draws on his long experience and unwavering belief in the need to teach high school and college students about budgeting and money management. His mantra: “The only good debt is debt you can repay.”
Ninfo’s interest in financial literacy grew out of watching financially destroyed individuals pass through his courtroom, casualties of what he calls “a national epidemic of financial illiteracy.” Federal bankruptcy cases have risen six-fold the last two decades. In 2002, Ninfo founded Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE), a financial education program that sends judges, trustees, attorneys and court staff to high schools and colleges to meet with owners of small businesses, faith groups and veterans. Ninfo wants his hometown of Rochester to be a model for people learning to live within their means.
Ninfo, 70, says too many people overspend and that is what has led to Americans carrying up to nine credit cards and, on average, having $10,000 in credit card debt. No one needs more than one credit card, he argues, and it should be paid off in full each month. You get a single statement and can easily see your total credit card balance, what you have charged, and how much interest you have paid. If a bank in this “credit-and-debt-is-okay-society” won’t give you a higher credit limit on that one card it should be taken a a wake-up call, Ninfo says.
The CARE program is now offered in 50 states and the District of Columbia, operating through the American Bankruptcy Institute. Last year, CARE deployed bankruptcy volunteers to deliver 750 financial literacy presentations throughout the country, all of which were free of charge.