Correction to This Article
A May 22 Washington Business article on the competition among banks misspelled the name of Bruce Hendricks, owner of the Potomac Promenade shopping center.

Schools Bank On Teaching Kids How to Save

Tatevik Markaryan, 10, assistant manager of Sunrise Valley Elementary School's bank, works the teller's window, helping collect students' deposits.
Tatevik Markaryan, 10, assistant manager of Sunrise Valley Elementary School's bank, works the teller's window, helping collect students' deposits. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2006

There's a bank in Nate Folger's Fairfax elementary school. A real one. Never mind that the teller is a fifth-grader and many deposits come from tooth fairy funds -- it's one way a nation of non-savers and big spenders is trying to teach the next generation to do better at finances.

It might be working: Nate, 10, recently plunked a rumpled $5 bill onto the counter of the new Sunrise Savings Bank and walked away with a deposit slip.

He earns about $4 a week in allowance -- for setting the table and putting his clothes away -- but he has a plan.

"It's pretty tempting to spend," Nate said. "But every week I'm going to deposit $2 and keep $2 so I can watch it grow and grow and grow."

Sunrise Valley Elementary School Principal Beth English hopes that banking in school will make saving money second nature to Nate and his classmates. She watches them proudly carry checks that grandparents tucked into birthday cards and plastic baggies stuffed with pennies and deposit them in the bank, a school branch of Northern Virginia's Cardinal Bank with no minimum balance.

"Habits like brushing your teeth, those are developed early," English said. "I want them to learn the benefits of savings for their own stability, their own security, their own independence. A very small number of Americans are saving. Even among my adult friends, it's not a habit they've developed."

English sees the ABCs of personal finance as essential to today's classrooms, and she is not alone. With savings rates falling and personal bankruptcies on the rise, educators and policymakers are beginning to insist that the basics of money management and, above all, the importance of saving, become part of school offerings.

Last year, Virginia lawmakers mandated that economics and financial literacy be taught in middle and high schools. Beginning next year, students will learn about online shopping, creating a budget, identity theft and even how to decide whether a rebate or discount is really a good deal. Legislators in Texas and South Carolina recently passed similar laws.

The Maryland State Department of Education is developing lessons on personal finance that cover such topics as health insurance selection, retirement planning and credit card management.

This is against the backdrop of a U.S. savings rate that is the lowest it's been since the 1930s, an uncertain future for Social Security and the gradual demise of pension plans that have been a mainstay for aging Americans for generations.

Education groups and financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, have stepped up to offer instruction. Operation Hope Inc., a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization working against poverty, operates Banking on Our Future, which teaches kids money management basics, at 20 schools in the District and Virginia. Banks and credit unions open branches at such schools as Sunrise Valley in Reston and allow students to work as tellers and managers.

"Kids are the obvious targets to reach," said Dan Iannicola Jr., who as deputy assistant secretary for financial education at the Treasury Department visits classrooms to talk about the benefits of saving. (In one lesson, he gives children a piece of candy at the start of class. They are allowed to eat it, but if they choose to wait until class ends, they get a second piece.) "As early as their teens or their twenties, they can get into trouble, and it can take a lifetime to get out of it."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company