Americans have big student loans but little financial literacy

Denisse Giron is trying to get her finances in shape after graduating from Hofstra University with $110,000 in student loans. She earned a degree in history but realized she still had a lot to learn.

"How long will it take me to pay off my student loan debt? How will my future look? How will it affect my goals if I have this payment every month?" she said. "And I also wanted to learn how to invest, am I ready yet?

She isn't alone in having debt or questions about her finances. The federal government says 43 million individuals carry student loan debt and very few get any formal financial literacy education.

"No financial literacy education," Giron said of her experience. "I really didn't understand what I was signing when I was doing those initial student loans."

In a recent report, the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Literacy and Education Commission recommended financial literacy courses be mandatory at colleges and universities.

In the meantime, Giron has turned to the Financial Gym, which takes a physical fitness approach to personal finance. For a monthly membership fee of $99, Giron gets one-on-one financial counseling and unlimited access to her "trainer."

Jennifer Monahan is one of the trainers and says the Gym fills a major void.

"Financial literacy is not something that's widely discussed, in terms of, hey what is an interest rate, or what is a healthy relationship to have with spending or savings," Monahan said.

In addition to offering one-on-one coaching, the Financial Gym also offers weekly personal finance seminars, free and open to the public.

"We just want you to realize: this is the potential you have to take more control of your money," Monahan said.

While the federal government report recommends making financial literacy courses mandatory in colleges, a number of states are taking matters into their own hands, making it mandatory to teach financial education in high schools, though the number of schools doing that is still below 20.