Avengers Save the Day:

Innovative Groups Teach Youths Financial Wellness

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What do superheroes and mentors, financial calculators and online courses have in common? Each is a financial wellness tool developed by Visa, Staples Foundation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Operation Hope to teach youths financial literacy.

Financial wellness is the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being. Studies show that a majority of young people in the United States have poor financial literacy. In 2010, the Treasury Department and Department of Education assessed financial literacy in U.S. high schools, and the results were not good: the average financial literacy score of nearly 77,000 students was 70 percent. The Gallup-Hope Index of 2012 found that 46 percent of 70,000 polled 5th-12th grade students reported their schools did not teach them about money and banking. This trend has been consistent over the past decade and shows few signs of improvement — all at a time when young people face more personal debt and a difficult domestic and global job market.

The financial crisis demonstrated the impact of excessive spending and poor financial wellness. In the wake of the crisis, many public and private partners teamed up to help youths take control of their financial future—they wanted to equip the younger generation with skill sets to manage financial resources for themselves and society. Ideally, children develop financial skills they’ll need in adulthood while still in school — things like balancing a checkbook, filing taxes and managing credit cards. But in reality, despite the increasing number and complexity of financial issues, only a handful of states mandate financial wellness courses as a condition for graduating high school.

Many companies, religious institutions and nonprofit organizations stepped in to tackle the problem by developing innovative financial wellness tools for youths. Visa’s Practical Money Skills for Life program helps teach the fundamentals of personal finance through interactive resources that educate pre-K through college students. They introduce children to basic money concepts in a kid-friendly format as they collaborated with Marvel Comics on a new comic book called “Avengers: Saving the Day.” The plot follows the world’s most popular superheroes — Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow — as they learn valuable lessons about managing personal finances while foiling an attempted bank heist by the arch villain, Mole Man. The action-packed comic features a budgeting worksheet, finance terms and more.

Staples created Staples Foundation in 2002 to provide youths with the opportunity to achieve their full potential, including financial literacy. The Foundation for Learning provides another example of a private sector company employing innovative financial wellness tools. It collaborated with Mass Mentoring Partnership to recruit local businesses and adults in Massachusetts as youth mentors for financial wellness and job skills. Staples Foundation knew research has shown that youths guided by a successful role model are more likely to improve their academic performance through better decision-making skills and self-confidence.

Church groups launched innovative online platforms. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides online financial calculators to youths and families to assist in providing a more secure financial future. It provides a series of questions such as “How soon could I pay off all my debts?”, “Would spending a little less and saving a little more make a difference?” and “How much could I have if I saved regularly?” Youths use calculators to input personal financial information and see potential financial scenarios play out.

Charities have also teamed up with companies to improve youth financial wellness. Operation Hope, provider of financial wellness empowerment for youths through a series of creative public and private partnerships, crafted a “Kids and Teens, Listen Up!” financial wellness program for grades 4-12. Youths learn about the basics of banking and credit unions, checking and savings accounts, insurance, credit and investments through exciting online courses.

These innovative groups and other partnerships will continue to produce cutting-edge financial wellness tools for youths. Ideally, with sustained program implementation and sharpened financial wellness tools in the quiver, groups will increasingly impact youths and improve financial literacy. Present initiatives may be insufficient, but the avengers must save the day — our collective future depends on it.

John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development.

Nikki Eberhardt, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.

TO DO MORE to improve your own personal financial literacy you can watch these free videos at the Khan Academy: ACT NOW