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McHenry County teens make dollars, and sense

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(Mike Greene – mgreene@shawmedia.com)
Economics teacher Bill Macaulay tallies votes Sept. 4 for public good projects presented by students at Woodstock High School. Students in the course designed a variety of public good projects to gain experience in the cost and utility of such services.

WOODSTOCK – For today’s teens, working a part-time job is more than just about having a little pocket money. With a struggling economy, high gas prices and many parents out of work, it’s about how to manage money, too.

In school, economics and consumer education teachers teach teens about everything from interest rates to staying away from credit card debt. And neighborhood banks offer them advice and incentives to start putting away money.

“Most of the juniors and seniors in my economics class work part-time jobs after school and on the weekends. They are learning to manage their money, but they haven’t had a lot of practice, yet,’’ said William Macaulay, economics teacher at Woodstock High School.

“We discuss risks such as excessive credit card debt, but it can be difficult to simulate the real-life situations that they will encounter someday. I think the most important thing we can do is to practice being thoughtful and humble about money.’’

For some of his students, financial stress hits home.

“I do think that high school students are more cognizant of the economy because of the 2008 financial crisis,” Macaulay said. “For so many of them, their families have been directly affected by the downturn. Some students are more comfortable sharing their family’s experiences in class, and that is often a real eye-opener for those students whose families haven’t endured as much uncertainty over the last three or four years.’’

His students also learn what’s behind the foreclosure signs popping up in their neighborhoods.

“We devote a unit to studying the causes and consequences of the housing crash,’’ Macaulay said. “Most students can be pretty sophisticated in terms of understanding the interests of mortgage lenders, investment banks, ratings agencies and other players in the financial system.’’

To help teens start on the right path to managing their own money, banks offer incentives such as no-fee checking accounts.

“The service fee is waived the whole time they’re in college,’’ said Maureen Matroni, Woodstock branch manager for BMO Harris Bank.

And young children can start savings accounts with no minimum balance required, she said. With debit cards, she said, teens are encouraged to keep track of every transaction just as they would when writing checks.

As for credit cards, Matroni said, teens are being more cautious than ever in getting them and using them.

“We start talking about that first credit card. We always encourage them to talk to their parents and to get a card from a bank they know and trust,’’ Matroni said. “We see more kids coming in with their parents as opposed to doing it on their own. I think it’s because the parents understand that credit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and they want to teach those lessons to their kids.’’

Bankers give teens tips on managing their account, Matroni said, adding that more than ever, teenagers are aware of the importance of watching their money.

“Now, so many people are struggling that kids hear these stories. They know what’s going on,’’ she said. “I think we’re going to be teaching better lessons to this generation.’’

BMO Harris offers tips to help kids be money smart at www.helpingmakemoneymakesense.com.

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