Credit union launches contest to increase students' financial know-how

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A Texas credit union is enticing students to learn more about money management by dangling the prospect of $10,000 before their eyes.

But there's a catch. Half the money must go to college expenses, 40 percent goes to pay down debt, and the remaining 10 percent can be spent any way the winner wants.

The so-called Savings Challenge is sponsored for the third year by the Greater El Paso Credit Union (GECU), which aims to teach students Money Management 101. Contest participants must be willing to get coaching in developing a budget and sticking to it, avoiding unnecessary debt, and financing their college education sensibly. The student who comes closest to meeting their goals will get the $10,000; finalists will receive $2,500 each.

"The trend in El Paso is that students use their credit cards to finance their college education, or what happens more often, they work full time and go to school part time, and it takes them seven, eight, ten, or twelve years to graduate," said Musette Bracher, the credit union's vice president of marketing.

Research by the AICPA shows that young people have a dismal savings record, and that the concept of saving money is far less important than it was 20 years ago. The 2006 study of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 shows that in 1985, 61 percent had an interest-bearing savings account; the percentage had dropped to 47 percent by 2004.

"People are literally spending more than they are earning after taxes for the first time since the Great Depression," the study said.

Braun Mincher, author of The Secrets of Money: A Guide for Everyone on Practical Financial Literacy, believes financial literacy should be taught in schools. "Much has been done to bring awareness to other growing crises like childhood obesity, the need to wear sunscreen, and the early detection of breast cancer, but why has something as important as financial literacy been largely ignored?" he wrote in the Austin Statesman-Journal.

Isabel Castillo, a Central El Paso resident who is participating in the GECU contest, told the El Paso Times that reaching out to college students is a great idea. "How much better will it be to visit your parents because you want to and not because you have to ask for money, use their laundry or raid their fridge?"

Applicants can try out by submitting a five-minute video audition by September 30. Six will be chosen. Find more information at the Savings Challenge Web site.

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