Financial Education Gap Is One CUs Can Help Bridge
As the need for financial literacy rises, credit unions continue to explore different ways to reach younger members.
Wanting to help in credit unions’ efforts at schools, Banzai has created a WhatsaCU.com, a student focused website designed as a free financial education tool.
“We’ve been working with credit unions for a few years now, and we’ve noticed the struggle to connect with teens, especially through schools,” said Morgan Vandagriff, co-founder of Banzai. “We wanted to find a way to help bridge the gap between financial literacy in schools and financial education initiatives taking place at credit unions. This website can do that.”
The customizable, turnkey website comes equipped with brief explanations of the key aspects of a credit union, a short video answering common questions and an interactive finance quiz for students. According to Vandagriff, credit unions can use the website as an outline for presentations to their local schools.
“We are thrilled with the many educational opportunities that this website will provide,” said Vandagriff. “We notice a trend of students simply not understanding how a credit union works, and in most cases, once they find out how credit unions work, they want to be involved.”
Never forgetting its roots in education, Westbury, NY-based NEFCU, teamed up with Hofstra University to sponsor a college financing webinar moderated by Newsday. According to representatives of the over $1.5 billion credit union, the response from those in virtual attendance was extremely positive. For those who missed it, NEFCU has offered free, on demand access to the archived webinar.
The one-hour webinar, “Get Them There! How to Finance College,” offered the hundreds who participated, information on a variety of college-financing subjects, finding scholarships, filling the gap between traditional aid and the cost of college, working with financial aid offices, avoiding over-borrowing, and estimating the true cost of a college education. The session wrapped up with an interactive question and answer segment.
Representing NEFCU on the panel of financial experts was John Beneri, senior vice president of lending, who fielded several questions and offered a balanced mix of both personal insights and professional advice.
“I understand what parents go through navigating the complex college-financing process having put three daughters through college,” said Beneri. “At NEFCU, our staff actively works with families every day to find the most affordable financing possible to ease the burden of rising college costs.”
He added that the webinar was simply an extension of the many education-focused products and services the credit union provides.
“That’s a big part of why NEFCU was eager to co-sponsor this event,” Beneri said. “With the entire college financing process being so involved, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and miss some great funding opportunities.”
Educational programs, like reality fairs or student-run credit union branches, that teach via a hands on approach, may lead to a long-term impact as students in many cases experience a shift in their perceptions of money.
A recent study, “How American Consumers View Debt,” explored how Americans’ view and use of debt and credit could have contributed to the economic recession. The researchers Michelle Barnhart of Oregon State University and Lisa Penoloza of Ecole de Haute, Etudes Commerciales du Nord of France, found that Americans suffer from a lack of financial literacy. Every participant said they had learned about credit card use and debt primarily through personal experience. Very few had received any training in school or at home, and most participants said they didn’t discuss family finances with their children. In addition, participants often talked about credit as a measure of worth, noting that if they were approved for a certain loan they were “good enough for that car.” Statements often indicated that approval for big-ticket items such as cars and homes were directly related to a value of the person. Several of the younger participants in the study noted that they did not want to use credit but felt they had to in order to finance cars and homes in the future. Most of the younger participants also were encouraged by their parents to have credit cards, and started using credit at a much younger age than those older than 50.
“The economic crash was not just about people being dumb or greedy,” Barnhart said. ”There are compelling forces out there that lead people to live lifestyles outside of their means.”
According to Barnhart, credit card use and heavy debt has become normalized-essentially creating a culture of debt.
One of the few young participants to not carry any debt said she felt punished for her refusal to have a credit card. She was refused a cell phone and had encountered embarrassing situations during business travel because she did not have a credit card. Barnhart said this system of penalizing consumers for not using credit is one of the problems.
“Your credit score is this big black box mystery,” she said. “There are three companies in the entire country that control this information, and they make the rules and the equation is secret. So people are told to get credit cards but not use them. For some, this is equivalent to filling your freezer with ice cream and telling you not to eat it.”
She added that it has been some of the most educated and privileged of Americans who have engaged in risky financial behavior.
Barnhart and Penaloza said the missing link in American society continues to be financial literacy. They believed that financial literacy classes should be required in school and not only address credit card fees and compound interest but also critique debt as a cultural value.
“It’s easy to sit back and blame consumers for just spending too much, but the truth is we have an entire infrastructure set up to support, maintain and encourage credit card debt,” Barnhart said. “I would love to see economics back in high school classes that addresses how to manage household finances.”
Oink, Oink Here
Don’t make assumptions about serving and educating Millennials and subsequent generations.
Some of today’s youth are already entrepreneurs, intent on solving problems through technology.
Don’t believe it? Consider Fabian Fernandez-Han, who last year at the age of 12, won the New York Stock Exchange Financial Future Challenge.
Fernandez-Han created the Oink-a-Saurus, a new iApp and interactive website. Designed to show kids how investment opportunities exist all around them, the app tracks web browsing and buying habits while providing an alternative option of what would happen if the money spent was saved or invested. Instead of just buying something, users can go from learning about the company that makes it, to buying and selling that company’s shares in a stock market simulator with the help of Pigger and Porky. The app includes a news service that provides teen-friendly stock market and investing information. In addition, “Oinkers” can head to the Mud Pit to discuss everything from learning more about something heard or read related to saving, investment or economics, to asking other Oinkers to weigh in on the pros and cons of a particular stock purchase. Upon registration, Oinkers enter information regarding their favorite brands, things to buy and favorite things to do. The app uses the responses to create a short list of publicly traded companies that may be of interest. For Fernandez-Han, an avid saver and investor with a 14% return during the recession, it’s been a dream come true to make finance fun and accessible.