Help they can bank on

Instruction: Seniors at Liberty High get valuable lessons in how to manage personal finances.

Education Beat

News From Carroll County Schools And Colleges

April 03, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

When Karen P. Ingram of BB&T Bank asked a group of Liberty High seniors whether any of them had credit cards, a few teens raised their hands, indicating they had been initiated into the world of interest rates and monthly statements.

For those who haven't waded into the waters of everyday finance, Ingram and 22 other representatives from nine area banks recently talked to students about topics such as opening checking and savings accounts, how to fill out a check, and the advantages and disadvantages of using debit and credit cards.

"We're getting to them while they still have a clean slate and a clean credit report," said Patricia Keenan, a Spanish teacher who is serving as the school's small learning communities facilitator.

The lessons were delivered over the course of two weeks in school advisory sessions.

In the first half-hour session, students learned about the importance of opening checking and savings accounts for their paychecks, keeping a detailed checkbook register and using an ATM card responsibly.

They learned, for instance, that when they use a debit card for a purchase, the funds will come directly -- and immediately -- out of their checking account.

Ingram, BB&T's financial center manager at the Eldersburg branch, encouraged students to try debit cards as a way to avoid the slippery slope of overdue credit card bills and interest charges.

During the second session, the seniors heard more about the significance of their credit score, how to apply for a car loan or home loan, and the importance of repaying loans on time.

"We're here trying to give them some realistic tips," Ingram said.

As she stressed the importance of establishing a good credit history while they're young, Ingram told the teens that she sees too many young adults head off to college with credit cards but without the discipline and knowledge to use them wisely.

She said she sees students with credit problems and worries that they don't realize how long it can take to repair the damage.

"Kids get these credit cards and end up ruining their credit," she said. "They don't realize it's going to take years to get that fixed."

She reminded them that their credit history would be one of the main factors considered when they go to a bank looking for a home loan.

Jackie Leazer, banking center manager at Bank of America's Carrolltowne office, and Michelle Duvall, assistant manager at the branch, said they were impressed with the students' questions and interest in handling their finances carefully.

"If you know the pitfalls ahead of time, you can prepare yourself," said Duvall, who proposed the idea of the banking sessions to Keenan last year.

"We see so many people making mistakes, and we're having to coach them through it after the fact," Leazer said. "This is a way to get to them ahead of time."

Although talk about home mortgages and home equity lines of credit struck the students as remote topics, most of them said they could relate to the information about debit and credit cards, as well as car loans.

"They don't teach us this kind of stuff in class," said Hunter Mink, 17, president of Liberty's student government association. "It's good to see something you wouldn't normally have in school."

Mink said he has two jobs to help pay for his car insurance and his monthly contribution toward the credit card he shares with his parents.

He jokingly offered one of his jobs to a classmate, Mike McCormick, 17, who said he doesn't work but also doesn't have a credit card.

Some of the teens who work said they contribute to their expenses and can appreciate how important it is to use their money wisely.

Meghan McConville, 17, said she learned the most from Ingram's discussion about how to use debit cards. She said she has been trying to persuade her parents to let her have one and hopes her newfound knowledge will convince them she's ready.

"I like to go to the bank before I go shopping, but it's hard to know how much money I need on me," said McConville, who works at Dairy Queen and has a savings account. She said she believes a debit card would help her manage her spending.

But the best part about debit cards, she said, is "you don't have to pay interest on them."

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