Headlines bemoan the lack of personal finance being taught in our schools. Most students will graduate with little to no education on personal finance basics. But, with Experian’s help, LifeSmarts is making a difference for students across the country. Together, we are helping students get on the right path to a lifetime of success by equipping them with the financial knowledge and consumer skills they need to make informed, responsible choices.
LifeSmarts, an educational program and scholarship opportunity, offers teens the opportunity to learn about the “real world” while in high school. LifeSmarts prepares students to be knowledgeable consumers and workers, and more engaged citizens. A student from Florida put it this way at the recently-held 2016 National LifeSmarts Championship: “Ignorance is the disease. LifeSmarts is the cure.”
As the nation’s premier consumer education program and competition for high school students, the goal of the LifeSmarts program is to create smart, confident citizens prepared for today’s fast-paced, global marketplace. LifeSmarts does this by focusing on five core content areas: personal finance, consumer rights and responsibilities, technology, the environment, and health and safety. LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League, the nation’s longest-serving consumer advocacy organization, and extends NCL’s mission to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers.
LifeSmarts begins in the classroom. Using the treasure trove of lessons and learning activities found at www.LifeSmarts.org, educators provide classroom instruction on money management, budgeting, banking, credit, and much more. Content vocabulary helps educators focus instruction and provides students with a scaffold to use to synthesize new terms and concepts.
The fun hook: Competition! What sets LifeSmarts apart and makes it fun for educators and students alike is competition. Students proceed through several levels – often beginning with local competitions in the classroom. When they are ready, students also compete online, at the state level, and state champion teams meet every April, during National Financial Literacy Month, to compete head to head for the National LifeSmarts Championship. This year’s 22nd anniversary event was in Denver, and four days of action-packed competition and fun culminated in the team from Pennsylvania being crowned this year’s national champs. Teams from Florida, Tennessee, and Hawaii also placed.
During competition, students correctly answered such challenging questions as these:
- Name two things you can do to prevent excessive impulse purchases:
- Your mom co-signed for your credit card. If you don’t pay your credit card bills, whose credit records will be affected?
- Name the federal agency that enforces credit laws that protect your right to get, use, and maintain credit?
- Credit can be a valuable tool if you use it wisely. Name one thing you can do to use credit wisely?
- Name one advantage of the higher education savings account known as a “529”?
- Signed in 2003, the federal FACT Act allows consumers to request what consumer report for free once every twelve months?
Teens gain knowledge through LifeSmarts that they are able to begin using right away in their daily lives—unlike some other traditional high school subjects. They also actively pass this knowledge and their new consumer skills on to peers and family members. Participants recognize an increase in self-efficacy due to participation in LifeSmarts, and, in the words of several recent LifeSmarts alumni, here is how LifeSmarts has helped them:
- LifeSmarts has helped me gain an interest in the stock market and our economy. In the time since I began in LifeSmarts I have opened an IRA and a money market account.
- When purchasing a car, I knew it was best to shop around and look for the best deal. And also, since I was buying used, I knew I needed to get the VIN and do a background check on the car and see if it had ever been in any accidents.
- I looked at several different stores and Web sites before I bought my camera, exercising my right to choose and also finding the best camera for my money.
- I just moved into my own apartment and have my own bank account and bills to pay. LifeSmarts gave me the know-how to handle my business on my own – from auto, rent and health insurance, to managing my money. I learned that you could actually call a credit card company and ask to have your interest rate lowered, and I did it.
It is gratifying to work with long-term partners such as Experian. Over the past 20 years Experian has provided in-kind donations of time and expertise, such as writing competition questions, reviewing content, serving as officials at state and national LifeSmarts competitions, and serving on the LifeSmarts Advisory Board. Our partnership with Experian has provided LifeSmarts participants with a deeper understanding of credit issues, especially credit reports, and credit scoring.
Experian has also generously supported LifeSmarts financially throughout that time, providing funding to help LifeSmarts extend its reach to other Student Leadership Organizations such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), 4-H, and local JumpStart Coalitions. Funding from Experian has also allowed LifeSmarts to explore opportunities for growth in large, urban school districts. By partnering with LifeSmarts Experian has shown a commitment to educating the next generation and investing in today’s youth.
When I think of what I didn’t know about consumer issues when I was a 16-year-old high school student, I’m even more impressed by the young people who participate in the LifeSmarts consumer education program and competition.
Our goal is that everyone will learn something when they participate in LifeSmarts. So after reading this blog, did you learn something new? Were you able to answer those challenging questions that our champions conquered?
- Set a time limit; consider changing how and where you shop; avoid shopping with impulsive buyers; give yourself a set “splurge” budget; keep a list of things you really want/need; keep your credit cards at home; limit the amount of money you carry
- Both yours and your mom’s
- FTC; Federal Trade Commission
- Know the real cost of debt; don’t use credit to live beyond your means; read the fine print when comparing credit options; pay your bills in full each month; keep your total credit payments to less than 10% of your monthly income
- Deposits grow on a tax-deferred basis; when money is withdrawn to pay for higher education, it is taxed at the student’s rate; some states provide tax breaks in addition to the federal tax breaks; the money can be used for colleges in any state
- Credit report; personal credit report
Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Phillips Photography