With personal bankruptcies skyrocketing, some financial companies are finding money in their budgets to help reverse the trend. But the results won't be seen for some time.
These companies are developing teaching programs and materials to help young people learn how to handle money.
The goal is simple: by raising a crop of youngsters who are better money and credit managers, these companies would assure themselves of creditworthy customers in the future.
"Knowing about money supplies the children with a sense of empowerment so they can make better financial decisions," said Neale Godfrey, who heads the Children's Financial Network Inc., an educational venture that works with companies to teach young people about money.
Ms. Godfrey has worked with Citibank, New Jersey's Midlantic Bank, New York's Dime Savings Bank, and Connecticut's Bank of Manchester to help develop financial education programs.
Discover Card's Approach
The Discover Card subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck and Co. has stepped into publishing with an annual personal finance magazine, Extra Credit. Billed as the Money Magazine for teens, it was developed with Scholastic Inc., a New York-based publisher of educational materials for teachers and students.
The 28-page second issue of the vibrantly illustrated, four-color magazine was distributed last month to 4.8 million junior and senior high school students nationwide.
The issue featured:
* A list of odd jobs that teenagers can get.
* A profile of a young Olympic athlete and his financial plans and goals.
* A quiz and tips on how to be environmentally conscious when shopping.
The payoff for Discover is down the road.
"We could spend to get more accounts right now," said Bill Hodges, senior vice president of marketing, who oversees the project, "or we can invest now and in 10 years reap a lot more."
Citibank's Teen Open Houses
Citibank is inviting young teenagers into its branches to learn more about banking and good saving habits.
The program, called Banking on Your Future, teaches teens about saving. Subjects range from bartering in ancient days to opening a savings account.
Seventh- and eighth-grade classes from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut visit local Citibank branches for a half-hour discussion and a behind-the-scenes tour.
The tour, considered the highlight of the trip by most students, elicits responses like "ooh," "aah," and "totally narly." The young people get to walk through the main vault, peek at the inner mechanics of an automated money counting see an automatic money counting machine at work, and learn about security measures.
"Security seems to be pretty important to these kids," said Sue Krasnove, a midtown Manhattan branch manager. "They've heard the terms 'bankrupt' and 'frozen assets' and 'counterfeit' and they're scared, because they don't understand.
"We help them to understand that a bank is nothing to be afraid of. And we teach them a lot more about banking and money."
Lax money management by adults was one stimulus for Visa U.S.A. to develop a new teaching unit for high school students. "Choices and Decisions" is a multimedia teaching package.
So far, more than 200 Visa member financial institutions have bought copies for $85 - the cost of production - to donate to local schools or Junior Achievement and 4-H groups. The goal: to help young people learn money and life skills.
While watching an interactive video, terms of students advise on-screen characters who are wrestling with financial problems. At the end of the game, which simulates four months of the characters' lives, the characters tell how their lives would have gone if they had followed the students' suggestions.