Bankers Association works to promote financial literacy

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina, the 10th most populous state in the U.S., ranks 37th among the states and the District of Columbia in financial literacy, according to WalletHub, which looked at 12 metrics gauging knowledge, education, planning and daily habits related to finance.

Aiming to connect groups and individuals in the state that care about financial literacy, and to stimulate efforts to improve it, the North Carolina Bankers Association Foundation has launched the North Carolina Center for Financial Literacy.

“Financial education matters because no matter what career you have, what path you take, it’s one of the most important parts of your life,” says Jan Dillon, the Center’s director.

The Bankers Association Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the North Carolina Bankers Association, has made financial literacy a focus for at least 21 years through Camp Challenge, a one-week residential camp for middle-school students it has offered each summer since 1993.

Over 9,300 kids have participated in the camp, which features traditional camping activities and daily classes in financial education that examine topics such as credit, saving, investing and entrepreneurship.

The lessons are geared to issues the students actually are thinking about, like buying a car or starting their own business, says Dillon, who designs the financial literacy curriculum for Camp Challenge.

Using digital tablets, for example, campers can go online to find out the cost of buying a car, choose the one they want — many opt for expensive makes such as Maserati or Bugatti — use an auto-loan calculator to determine the monthly cost, then compare that monthly car payment with the monthly pay they could expect to receive from the careers they hope to pursue.

“We’re teaching students at an early age what debt really means,” says Dillon, a 2013 graduate of Elon University School of Law who concedes she got a first-hand lesson about finance when weighing whether to attend Elon, which offered her a scholarship, or another school, which did not.

“Law school is an expensive venture,” she says.

The Bankers Association Foundation expects by the end of the year to launch a campaign to increase its endowment, which now totals $1.4 million, to generate enough income to cover the $175,000 annual cost of operating Camp Challenge.

After operating for 20 years at a 4H camp in Stokes County, Camp Challenge this year relocated to Y Camp Weaver in Greensboro, where its costs nearly doubled, causing it to reduce to 300 from 400 the total number of campers who attend eight one-week sessions.

While it is free, Camp Challenge charges a $10 application fee, and covers costs through money raised in an annual fund campaign.

And next summer, Camp Challenge and Camp Weaver will launch a pilot program for one of two Camp Challenge campers to enroll in a two-week leadership program at Camp Weaver leading to their becoming counselors-in-training and then counselors at Camp Weaver.

The two camps also are talking about Camp Weaver offering to its own campers the personal finance course offered by Camp Challenge.

The new Center for Financial Literacy already has convened a roundtable discussion among officials of financial-services companies, state government and others to talk about financial-literacy education in the state’s public schools.

And it is teaming with Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg to bring a local professional basketball player to teach a credit lesson in a local middle school.

Ultimately, the Center wants to foster greater understanding and conversation about financial literacy, and private-public partnerships that will increase opportunities for students, adults, seniors, military personnel and veterans to learn about it, Dillon says.

Finance, she says, “can be a stresser or it can be an enabler for positive change.”

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