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107,000 18 year olds are languishing in debt

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The Open University Business School (OUBS) is on a £2 million mission to sign up 23,000 16-18 year olds to new course and stamp out the ‘domino of debt’ cycle



  • New research[1] from OUBS reveals one in seven 18 year olds are already in debt, almost two-thirds (60%) of those in debt admit they owe money to payday loan companies - £168 each on average
  • Excluding more traditional student borrowing, these 18 year olds have already racked up debts on credit cards (60%) totalling £14.5 million[2], unauthorised overdrafts (57%), store cards (49%) and catalogues (49%)
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of this age group believe this could have been avoided if they’d received more effective personal finance education and 94% say it would have been prevented with some form of guidance or support
  • OUBS has joined forces with University Challenge star Bobby Seagull and MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis to deliver a free and easy to digest personal finance course with bite-sized video-based sessions of learning and quizzes
  • OUBS is on a mission is to help at least 1% (23,000)[3] of 16-18 year olds by Christmas in the latest part of a £2 million[4] initiative to champion personal finance education across the UK

New research[1] released today by The Open University Business School’s (OUBS) dedicated research centre, The True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance, reveals that one in seven 18 year olds has already racked up debts. This is generated through payday loans (60%), credit cards (60%), unauthorised overdrafts (57%), store cards (49%) and catalogues (49%). The research, which was carried out across 1,000 16-18 year olds, indicates that 13% of 18 year olds are already languishing in debt (this figure excludes traditional student funding for those at university). This equates to 107,000[2] 18 year olds across the UK. This follows a recent report from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which warns of a ‘pronounced’ build up of debt amongst young people as they are forced to borrow money for basic living costs.

To combat this growing problem, OUBS has joined forces with University Challenge star and Arithmophobia Expert, Bobby Seagull, and MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis, to develop a free course specifically designed for the financial education needs of 16-18 year olds. Managing My Money for Young Adults is delivered through video content, animations, case studies, activities and quizzes. It provides 24 hours of learning broken into eight bite-sized sessions, to offer learners a strong foundation of personal finance knowledge to help them avoid bad debt in the future. The course also provides a ‘Managing my budget’ web app. Feedback is provided throughout, enabling learners to track their progress.

£2 million mission

This is the fourth in a series of personal finance courses developed by OUBS since 2014. It is an ongoing initiative which has received funding of over £2 million from a range of donors including True Potential LLP, and the Chartered Accountants’ Livery Company Charity, which has funded the development of this course. To date, more than 300,000 people have signed up to these courses.

This course really bolsters financial education in schools by offering students and teachers a format they can study when it’s convenient for them. We are now on a mission to sign up 23,000 16 to 18 year olds by Christmas as we try to break the cycle of debt for as many young people as possible. This is the fourth in a series of financial education courses we’ve launched over the past three years. We feel it’s got the potential to be the biggest game changer yet. While debt has its place in society and it’s not always negative, we are on a mission to ensure informed financial decisions are made before the dominos of debt start to tumble.

Martin Upton
Director of the True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance at The Open University Business School

The shocking conclusions of this research suggest schools currently pay about as much attention to financial literacy as they did to sex education in the 1950s. This project aims to equip every young person with the 21st century skills to negotiate a good deal financially and manage their money successfully.  We are delighted to support such a vital initiative which fits well with the objectives of the Lord Mayor of London and the entire City livery movement.

Clive Parritt
Master of The Chartered Accountants' Livery Company

What a difference a day could make to 23,000 16-18 year olds

The course takes just 24 hours to complete and will be available from Friday 3 November 2017. It includes information on topics such as:

  • Earning money and understanding tax
  • Savvy shopping and budgeting
  • Preparing for life after school
  • Living in shared households
  • Understanding debt and how to borrow wisely
  • Credit ratings and how to protecting them
  • Planning for later life such as buying a home and pensions.

Video content

Each session contains video content featuring MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis and University Challenge Star Bobby Seagull. These videos cover topics such as;

  • Credit cards - good debt or bad debt? (This is delivered in a Q&A style format with Martin Lewis filmed at Denbigh High School in Milton Keynes with 200 year 12 students)
  • Student loans
  • Credit ratings
  • Living in shared rentals
  • Being a ‘switcher’ rather than a loyal customer

Teaching the teachers

Research from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Financial Education for Young People Report found that only 17% of secondary school teachers have personally received training on teaching financial education. This is despite the fact that 58% would like to receive more training in this area. In addition, only 28% of secondary school teachers believe their school has put more emphasis on financial education since it became statutory. 42% feel there has been no change in emphasis at all. The latest course from OUBS also offers a 23-page teachers pack which provides a step by step guide around both delivery and content of the course.

Image of Bobby Seagull

This a powerful initiative which I’m proud to be a part of. I’ve seen the problems created by poor financial management from every side of the fence; working as a trader at Lehman Brothers right through the financial collapse in 2008, as a Senior Associate at PwC, and in my current role as a secondary school maths teacher. The core problem is clear to me. There are too many highly educated young people stepping out into the world without the knowledge they need to make informed financial decisions. Prevention really is better than cure when it comes to personal finance and this course is a great way for young people to help themselves, above and beyond what they are taught in school and college.

Bobby Seagull
University Challenge Star and Arithmophobia Expert

For more information on the course or to register please visit the course page.

Media Enquiries

Tracey Dickerson, The PR Network

Russell Read-Barrow, The PR Network


  1. The research was carried out on behalf of OUBS with OnePoll amongst 1,000 UK 16-18 year olds. The survey was conducted between 25th September 2017 and 3rd October 2017.
  2. 107,000 18 year olds is calculated as follows;
    • ONS Figures show that the total population of 18 year olds totals 787,378.
    • Our research shows that 13.6% of 18 year olds are in debt which equates to 107,000.
    • Research shows average credit card debt is £219.89.
    • 60% of 18 year olds that have debt accumulated this on credit cards which totals 66,139. 66,139 x £219.89 = £14,543,470 of total credit card debt
  3. ONS population figures:
    • 16 year olds UK – 750,567
    • Total 17 year olds UK - 762,441
    • Total 18 year olds UK - 787,378
    • Total 2,300,386 – 1% = 23,000