For the past several years, Tennessee high school students have been required to take a course in personal finance as part of their high school graduation requirement.

In fact, Tennessee is one of only five states to do so. But are students getting the message? A recent study showed that only 17% of US citizens ages 18-34 demonstrated basic financial literacy.

The Center for Financial Literacy says an uneducated young person armed with a credit card, a student loan and access to a mortgage can jeopardize their future.

Many high school and college students say they're often drilled on geometry and literature, but learn very little about taxes and investing.

Grant Reynolds is one of Tennessee's teachers trying to change that. He teaches personal finance at East Hamilton High School. 

"I think it's really good we go over all the important things they'll need financially," Reynolds said. "I wish we had this when I was in high school."

Tennessee is one of the few states that have put a priority on financial literacy.

Just 29% of young adults say they'd been offered financial education at a school, college or workplace.

East Hamilton students say they're just a few years away from making important money decisions.

Brady Farren said, "If you really want to do well, you'll learn how to save, instead of going paycheck to paycheck, and you don't want to do that."

The class includes taxes, insurance, loans, credit cards, and savings. Some of these students may never need to solve complex calculus problems, but they will probably need to buy a car, and pay for a place to live.

At UTC, Jim Tanner volunteered his class to participate in an informal Q &A session about what they've learned about money in high school, and at home. Although most of the students took the personal finance class in Tennessee high schools, our informal show of hands reveals the majority say they feel unprepared to make wise financial choices. Many college students admit, they're learning the do's and don'ts of making, saving, and spending money, the hard way. Many students admit, they're learning the do's and don'ts of making, saving, and spending money, the hard way.

Senior Sarah Moore said, "Now that I'm graduating, I've had to learn all this, like I have to pay my loans back. I didn't know that was gonna happen!" 

Although most qualify for free online income tax preparation, many take the easy, and more expensive route, paying a professional to do their taxes.

Some are already in debt with student loans, which can mount in the years to come. Then there's housing costs, the cost of a car, including maintenance, repairs and insurance. Others are baffled by credit cards, paying interest, and late fees.  Some are just learning the importance of a credit rating, which can make or break their ability to borrow. Your credit history can affect your ability to borrow money, get a job and find a place to live.

Another common mistake is not saving enough. Many college students say they're either unable to save, or just consider it a low priority. Living within a budget sounds good for many, they just haven't gotten around to creating one.

UTC junior Emily King attended high school in Georgia, and got little or no financial education. Now she's a believer, saying.that all college age students need to learn the basics.

She said, "You know when I graduated high school, I didn't know anything about loans, savings, credit cards, so yeah, high school didn't prepare me whatsoever."

Most financial literacy teachers recommend saving 10% to 15% of your income for retirement or a rainy day fund. If you wait until later in your career to start saving, that percentage increases, around the same time your expenses do. Most colleges, including UTC provide a Financial Wellness Center. Students say the center provides valuable services and advice.