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BURBANK, Calif. – Teenagers are getting some much needed financial education – from learning how to manage their own checking accounts to being responsible for their own Visa credit card – thanks to a program offered at Burbank City Employees Federal Credit Union. Started about seven years ago by Suzanne McClure, vice president of marketing, hundreds of young people from 15 to 18 years of age have gone through the “Independent Advantage” program. Three of the people who attended the classes, which last about 3.5 hours once a week for four weeks, have since been employed by the credit union, she said. Now, plans are in the works to offer financial education classes for 10- to 14-year-olds. “It’s a very different age group,” McClure noted. “It`s got to be a very different program for them.” That program is expected to get under way in 2004. “We chose to start with the older kids . . . because that group needs (financial) education more than the little kids,” she said. That point was dramatically brought home to McClure and others at the credit union when two focus groups were held, one with teens who had attended the classes and one with those who were just starting the program. “I’m very amazed at how little the kids know,” she said of their knowledge of money management and services offered by financial institutions. “The difference was just startling,” McClure said of the two focus groups. “The kids who hadn’t been through the program didn’t even know how to answer the questions . . . It was just a dramatic difference. And that made us feel great.” The success of the Burbank program has resulted in the credit union taking top honors in the statewide Desjardins Youth Financial Education Awards, which recognize leadership within the credit union movement on behalf of youth financial literacy. Burbank City Employees FCU, which took first place for credit unions in the $80 million to $200 million category, now advances to the national Desjardins Youth Financial Education Awards, overseen by CUNA. Burbank City Employees FCU has about $180 million in assets and serves 11,000 members, primarily employees of the city of Burbank and their families. The teen education program is broken into four nightly seminars. The first deals with checking accounts; at the end of the class the youth are able to open their own personal checking accounts. The second class teaches them about electronic access, including ATM usage, the audio response system and other electronic transaction methods. Week three is dedicated to lending, credit and credit reports, at the end of which they fill out applications for Visa credit cards (the cards are limited to $200 to $500, depending on the person’s age). The last week of the class deals with budgeting and managing money. About 20 students attend the weekly classes, which are held about nine times throughout the year. Classes are held at the credit union and are taught by Linda Lewis, a part-time employee. That employee was hired three years ago specifically to run the program (she splits her time working in the phone center). Before that, the management team of the credit union taught the classes. Prior to hiring the instructor, McClure said the credit union looked into offering the classes on-line. “We thought they (the teens) would go through on their own time,” she said. “We thought, `Oh, they’re going to love it. They’re going to be up at 11:30 at night and they can do it then or they can do it on the weekends or whenever.’ “It turned out they didn’t want that. They wanted the classroom. They wanted to come into the credit union. They liked being here and meeting the people and meeting each other,” she said. “We were very surprised at how much they didn’t want it to be on-line.” The credit union also offers “graduate” sessions once or twice a year. So far, those sessions have been limited to investing, taught by a financial planner. McClure said she would like to add classes on auto purchasing and insurance if appropriate instructors can be found. McClure said the motivation behind offering the classes was both practical and altruistic. “We wanted to bring young people to the credit union, to introduce them to the credit union,” she said. “It was nice to be giving back to the community as well as lowering our average age of membership.” -

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