State Journal, Frankfort, April 1, 2016
Paper or plastic?: Area students get hands-on lesson in financial responsibility
By Brent Schanding
Aaron Valentine is only a senior at Franklin County High School but he says he’s already inundated with offers from credit card companies that promise low interest rates and rewards.
Valentine says he cuts them up.
Most Americans apparently don’t. Eight in 10 are in some kind of debt, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trust, which estimates the average American owes more than $15,000 to credit card companies.
Valentine doesn’t want to become a statistic and says he hopes never to have to rely on plastic to pay his bills.
“Most people don’t really know how to spend their money until it’s too late,” said Valentine, who plans to major in finance at Eastern Kentucky University this fall. “It takes a lot of self discipline.”
He says he’s learned a lot about budgeting from his mother and high school teachers. But all students might benefit from that knowledge, he said.
While a bill that would require Kentucky’s public high schools to teach a financial literacy course languishes in the Senate some educators also agree that students could strongly benefit from the class.
Teacher Aimee Wilson addresses personal finances in her classes at Western Hills High and says many juniors and seniors are already making financial decisions.
“I am an advocate of teaching our youth how to better prepare themselves for life. While math and English are very important, managing ones finances is essential for our students to become contributing citizens to our society,” she said. “Because of my class, it’s been wonderful hearing how students have decided to make sound financial decisions with their money, as opposed to spending it frivolously.”
But poor financial decisions — especially ones that damage credit scores — can “unfortunately lead students down a financial road of no return,” Wilson says.
Valentine says he took his first finance-related course as a sophomore and is currently enrolled in two this semester. They’ve taught him the Dave Ramsey financial system, which advises people to allot cash for necessary expenses — such as groceries, utilities or rent — in separate envelopes, but don’t rob from those reserves to pay for other wants.
It’s tempting to stray from that system, admits Valentine who’s worked at Kroger for the past two years to earn money for college. He even admits he probably spends too much on food, clothes and entertainment.
But he doesn’t want to be financially strapped for college and ending up swimming in student loan debt.
Real world experience
Still, Valentine understands that sometimes loans are necessary — even helpful.
He works as vice president of loan officers and marketing at the Flyer Credit Union, a student-operated financial institution located inside FCHS.
Students can open savings accounts there — even take out small low-interest loans of up to $50.
“Most of the time students come in because they forgot their lunch money,” Valentine said.
So the bank spots them $5. Some have even taken out larger loans in a half-interest Spring Break promotion offered at the credit union.
While the small loans won’t likely compound into a burden of debt for students, it still exposes them to the borrow-and-spend system of the real world.
But as they grow into adults, Valentine says he hopes those students will learn to live below their means and put aside some savings for a rainy day.
If and when they ever fall into loan traps, Valentine has some practical advice to lend:
“It’s time for them to start working if they don’t have a job,” he said. “And every bit of money they have should go to that loan until it’s easier to pay off.”