News Column

Series on finance targets teens

June 8, 2014

By Jessica Dyer, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

June 08--Some kids study personal finance at school. Others learn by watching their parents.

Now, Albuquerque teenagers have another resource for cash counsel: Their local library.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Library system will host a series of free summer workshops aimed at helping teens ages 14-17 navigate basic money matters.

The program -- called "Operation Teen Financial Literacy @ Your Library" -- covers topics such as money management, financial goal-setting and asset protection.

The lessons will come via videos, games and other interactive programming intended to make the material relatable and fun, according to Amy Lahti of WESST.

The program was built around the "Love Your Money" curriculum that Lahti adapted for Albuquerque. She and colleague Zoe Otero-Martinez will run the workshops, which each include a series of four two-hour sessions. Teens who complete a full four-day workshop will be entered into a drawing for an iPod shuffle.

"It's all about trying to engage with them about where they are now, plant those seeds for the future and (help them) understand that the decisions they can make now will stay with them for a long time," Lahti said. "Whether or not they have a concept of how long that long time is, being able to explain (these lessons) to them is important."

Consider that Americans ages 19-29 already have an average debt totaling $23,332, according to a recent "State of Credit" study by the Experian credit-reporting bureau. They have $2,682 in credit-card balances and are utilizing more of their available revolving credit -- 37 percent -- than any other age group, the study found.

Lahti said the teenagers she's worked with have had widely varying levels of financial know-how. Although New Mexico requires that its public schools offer students a financial literacy course at the high-school level, it is an elective.

And kids have disparate experiences learning about money at home. Even those from the most financially stable situations may be clueless about money if the subject is considered taboo in their family.

"I don't know that they're getting wrong information (today). I think there's a lack of information," Lahti said. "I grew up in a household where money was a very private subject, and people didn't talk about money very much. We saw the household running, and it ran fine and my parents were really responsible, but I didn't understand behind the scenes, how it was happening."

Surveys show that many teenagers recognize that they don't know enough.

In a 2013 "Teen Financial IQ Poll" by TCF Bank, 90 percent of participants said they're not learning everything they need to know about money management.

Operation Teen Financial Literacy @ Your Library workshops

--June 10-13: Alamosa Library (6900 Gonzales SW, 836-0684) 2-4 p.m.

--June 17-20: Juan Tabo Library (3407 Juan Tabo NE, 291-6260) 2-4 p.m.

--July 8, 15, 22, 29: Cherry Hills Library (6901 Barstow NE, 857-8321) 2-4 p.m.

Registration is required. To sign up, contact the branch directly.

A 2013 Junior Achievement survey found that 23 percent of teens either were somewhat or extremely unsure about their ability to budget successfully, while 20 percent felt the same about their ability to use credit cards and 34 percent felt uncertain about their ability to invest money.

Lahti said the courses, which begin this month, will cover some basic ground, including topics like budgeting. Even if teens don't have a lot of money to work with, "just learning how to allocate it and doing a little bit of saving and looking toward the future instead of just the now" is important, Lahti said.

The program also addresses credit -- why it's important to build a credit history but also how to avoid the associated pitfalls -- as well as student loans, the differences between traditional banking and check-cashing services, and more.

Lahti sees it as a basic foundation that participants can build on for years to come.

"We're planting seeds and giving them tools and tactics and strategies for them to make better financial decisions and, over time, they'll put that into practice," she said.

The workshops are made possible by a grant through the "Smart investing@your library" program, a partnership between the American Library Association and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority'sInvestor Education Foundation.

Since 2007, the program has provided 111 grants totaling $8.4 million to libraries in 36 states, according to project manager Margaret Monsour. Grant recipients can use the funding for various financial education efforts geared toward different groups -- such as young families or seniors -- but Monsour said about 35 percent of the resulting programs specifically target teenagers.

"Whether you are a teen looking for help to save money for college or maybe you're in college and got in trouble with credit cards or you want to buy a new car, whatever (the situation), clearly teens need help with money," she said.

Offering programming in a library setting means the guidance doesn't come with a sales pitch for a specific service or company. Libraries that receive grants work with local educator partners, Monsour said.

"The funding will make an array of free, unbiased financial-information programs possible in our community," said Dean Smith, ABC Library director.

Kimberly Lewis, the library's cultural activities coordinator, said ABC will run the same program next summer and also use part of its grant to offer a similar program through the school year to Amy Biehl High School students.


(c)2014 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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