With New Jersey high schools already facing a new mandate to teach students financial literacy, at least six school districts will be able to participate in a pilot program that establishes a class on the topic for seniors.

The state Department of Education in June added economics and financial literacy instruction to the state's high school graduation requirements.

At the same time, a bill working its way through the Legislature aimed to create a financial literacy pilot program, establishing a course on the subject in six districts. Those schools would receive advice and support from the state in establishing those classes.

Gov. Corzine signed the pilot-program bill on Nov. 20. The program, which will set up courses for high school seniors, will cover topics such as budgeting, savings and investment, and credit-card debt.

"So many young New Jerseyans find out all too late that living in a credit-card culture carries a price," said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the law's sponsors.

"By educating students at an early age about the consequences of financial instability and credit-card debt, we can hopefully help them to avoid bad decisions they will only regret when they're ready to settle down and start a family of their own."

Department of Education spokesman Rich Vespucci said there had been much interest in financial literacy since the state changed the graduation requirements.

Under state rules, economics lessons would be required alongside financial literacy instruction, Vespucci said. He said those classes could be taught any year, while Sweeney's bill is specific to seniors.

Vespucci said no decisions had been made on which districts would participate in the pilot program.

The program will begin in two districts from North Jersey, two in the central part of the state, and two in South Jersey.

The new graduation requirements will apply first to ninth graders in the 2010-11 school year.

A 2008 survey by Capital One found that only 14 percent of high school students had taken a personal-finance course, and 69 percent said they learned about finances from their parents.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 609-989-9016 or jtamari@phillynews.com.