Giving Kids a Jump-Start on Finances

Perhaps the best time to become a student of financial management is when you're a student.

Learn how to handle money when you're young, and you will be more likely, as an adult, to save, and less likely to be overwhelmed by debt.

But most students, according to recent surveys, while interested in managing their money, are ill-equipped.

"Our young adults are financially illiterate," says Dara Duguay, head of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Finance Literacy in Washington.

Last spring, the coalition of public and private groups surveyed 12th-graders around the country and found considerable ignorance on such key concepts as savings accounts, interest, Social Security, and retirement income.

Another survey, by Phoenix Insurance of Hartford, Conn., found that all but a few high school students understand buying on credit, mortgages, budgets, mutual funds, and other fundamentals.

To help fill in the gaps, Jump$tart aims at encouraging the teaching of personal-finance guidelines in schools, from kindergarten through Grade 12, in separate courses or as part of math, economics, social studies, or family and consumer sciences courses, Ms. Duguay says.

Jump$tart's Internet site lists a wide variety resources - from computer software to free pamphlets - to show kids, and their parents, the financial ropes. The address:

Phoenix Insurance has some tips of its own for helping children get started:

* Payday: Pay children an allowance on the same day each week. That lets them plan their spending and learn what happens when they don't.

* Divide and conquer: Encourage kids to divide their money into three categories: spending and short- and long-term savings. Explain why (for example: short-term savings to buy a skateboard and long-term savings for college). Use an investment fund or bank account to separate savings from spending.

* Show me the money: Take your kids to a bank. Ask for a tour, including the vault, to show how the process works.

* Bank on it: Open a savings account, and review the statement to see how interest compounds.

* Shop around: Show kids how to find the best price on the goods you buy.

* Use your head: Explain how much college costs and why it's worth it. Set up a college fund and encourage the kids to contribute.

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