Equifax Inc. is tired of being called the bad guy.
Every year the credit bureau gets four million calls from consumers who were denied credit.
"They don't understand what has happened to them," said Thomas F. Chapman, executive vice president, Equifax Financial Services Group, "and they look to us to fix it. They see us as the company that created their problem."
The company has made a stab at trying to win over a new generation of consumers by teaching them to be responsible for their credit histories.
During the past year the Atlanta-based credit bureau has been testing an educational program called Youth Enlightenment Series in 11 high schools in its hometown.
The curriculum, which focuses on how to manage a credit card properly, is being tested at a time when credit card delinquency rates and personal bankruptcy filings are at a record high.
Mr. Chapman said the economic environment had no bearing on Equifax's decision to start the program. Nevertheless, materials used in classrooms point to the ease with which students are approved for credit cards and get into trouble.
The five-part lesson plan features two former students, Alvin and Alyssa, now in their 20s, who racked up big card bills that they were unable to pay.
Alvin eventually filed for bankruptcy, and Alyssa was turned down for credit numerous times after accumulating 12 credit cards.
The lessons teach students how to avoid Alvin and Alyssa's mistakes and how to "navigate the waters in today's easy credit environment."
Equifax focused on credit cards because it is generally the first form of credit students obtain and with which they are familiar.
"We want students to understand that solicitations need to be dealt with judiciously," said Mr. Chapman.
The other two major credit bureaus, TRW Information Systems and Services and Trans Union Corp., also have consumer education initiatives, but these are not aimed exclusively at the classroom. TRW recently introduced Credit Crossroads, a series of educational materials focusing on events like divorce, buying a first home, and the birth of a child.
Equifax's approach is unique because it dedicated three full-time employees to the program. They are developing the curriculum and teaching it in the schools. More typically, corporate efforts in consumer education are aimed at producing materials for distribution.
William P. Cheeks, a 29-year veteran of Equifax, directs the curriculum, and two executives in their 30s, who were in the risk management and consumer center divisions of Equifax, are working with him.
By September, Equifax said, the curriculum will be taught in 42 Atlanta schools. If the Youth Enlightenment Series is expanded throughout the United States, Equifax may not be able to duplicate its efforts in Atlanta.
"A budget becomes important if we try to roll it out nationally," said Mr. Chapman. So far the program, which does not have a set budget, has cost Equifax about $100,000, he said.