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Extra Credit Union Program Helps Students Learn Personal Finance

Warren-Mott High School senior Ayah Habhab noticed her mother always paid off her credit card bill in full every month.

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Now, Ayah understands why.

“It’s amazing how much interest they charge,” she said.

That’s just one of several financial lessons Ayah and her classmates learned as students in a consumer management course offered at Mott.

“It’s primarily basic budgeting,” said Sarah Blondin, who teaches family and consumer sciences, a 21st-century version of the old home economics courses. “… It’s about being saavy consumers.”

An increasing number of schools have begun to offer courses like the one Blondin teaches, often under the header of financial literacy. The belief is most students are ill-prepared for the world of finance when they graduate from high school, and a basic understanding of budgeting, credit and taxes will go a long way toward helping them transition to the adult world.

“Coming out of the class, I’m more comfortable (understanding finances) now,” Ayah said. “I wasn’t taught this stuff (previously).”

Among the tools Blondin uses is a financial literacy program called “Banzai.” Sponsored by Extra Credit Union, a financial institution with roots in the Warren-Center Line area, Banzai is a hands-on, online software program that introduces students to concepts like managing debt, balancing budgets and reconciling bank statements. The program provides lifelike simulations to help students understand the concepts.

Blondin said the Banzai program appeals to students because “it’s computer-based … it’s self-driven and self-paced.”

Amy Persyn, marketing manager for Extra Credit Union, said the institution’s efforts to help students understand finance, usually through in-house programs, dates to at least the 1980s. But the economic downturn that began in 2008 forced Extra Credit Union to cut back on such efforts.

By providing Banzai to educators and students –- at no cost to the schools –- the company is able to reach far more students than possible previously, Persyn said.

“We want to educate more students in one year than we ever did before,” she said.

Persyn said 62 teachers in more than 25 schools have ordered the program. In addition to Mott, Macomb County schools using Banzai include: Fitzgerald High School, Crown of Life School and Rising Stars Academy.

Financial literacy education has existed for years in one form or another, Blondin said, but “you don’t hear about it much anymore.”

But in an era when students can amass tens of thousands of dollars in debt in student loans before they even graduate college, knowledge of borrowing and its costs are vital, Blondin said.

State education officials apparently agree, deciding a couple of years ago to permit students to substitute one elective financial literacy course for a traditional high school math course.

That’s helpful, Blondin said, but not enough.

“Why is this not required?” she said.

And teaching students about personal finance addresses one age-old complaint voiced by every generation of students: “How am I going to use this in the real world?”

“We can really apply it to real life,” said Alex Pelak, also a Mott senior. “We (all) spend money and pay taxes.”

Banzai interactive courses are fun and FREE. Go ahead.