<p>VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – It is never too early to teach financial literacy, and when Amphibious Base Naval Base Federal Credit Union had an opportunity to pilot a new savings program Marketing Director Madeline Busch said she couldn't pass it up. "I knew this was a winner and had to be a part of it," said Busch. The StartSmart Home Savings Program, created by its founder and CEO Vincent Ramirez, introduces children in grades 3 to 7 to the "Dollar Family" and emulates all the functions and tasks adults carry out from budgeting and accounting to writing checks and repaying loans with interest. A credit union representative serves as a "Home Savings Specialist" and both parents and children must pick up their child and parent handbooks from the credit union. "We call the house to set up an appointment with the child and we make sure parents understand this meeting is for the child," said Busch. "So as we hand over the books we talk to the child. We chat about school and provide a backpack complete with pencils, small calculator and other supplies to help get started. It really sets the foundation for building a great relationship not just with the children but parents too." As part of the arrangement the credit union agrees to communicate with the child every two months six times a year to let them know that the credit union is there for them and asking how they are doing with the program; conduct parent workshops every six months to exchange ideas and discover areas of improvement; and hold an annual event called StartSmart Day the second Saturday in May that will be a full day of various types of fun activities. "Kids love it, they almost never get mail so it is a big thrill when they see a letter addressed to them," said Busch. "And we have gotten such positive feedback from parents just thanking us or even asking how they can get their kids signed up." Parents serve as the "Home Savings Partner" and together with children set up guidelines and penalties. Family Rules become official when signed by child account holders and their Home Savings Partner. From there working with parent-supplied monthly funds, the youngsters learn by doing, developing budgets, maintaining interest bearing savings accounts, writing checks, balancing books, and even applying for and repaying loans with interest. "I got a call from one parent who said she was never so upset," said Busch. "Her son was very good with his savings and writing checks, but he (once) forgot to transfer money from his savings to cover the check so she had to charge him interest and she felt awful taking the money away from him-but he never made that mistake again." National statistics show that three out of four graduating high school students do not know how to write a check, yet according to pilot survey results, children mastered this task within a three-month period. Sixty-two families initially signed up for the ABNB FCU/SmartStart pilot program, after September 11 a total of 45 families actually participated. A total of five surveys from November 1, 2001 through February 10, 2002 were posted to measure progress. In 90 days 93% of children learned how to write a check; 96% saved more than 10% of their allowance; and 81% learned what interest is. "We are always looking for innovative programs that will benefit our members," said Busch. "And this is just so helpful not just because it gets children in the mindset of budgeting/saving discipline but it lets kids and parents really bond. It doesn't work otherwise." [email protected]</p>

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