Bank helps equip youth with ‘Better Money Habits’

Online and in-person curriculum gives children and their parents financial literacy tools.
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The in-person sessions give participants the opportunity to ask questions that pertain to their specific situation. Courtesy Bank of America

A bank with a local presence is addressing the decline of financial literacy among young people with an all-ages education platform.

According to a recent Citizens and Junior Achievement survey, over half (54%) of teens feel financially unprepared for the future, as the Business Journal recently reported.

Brandon Spangler. Courtesy Bank of America

Brandon Spangler, a Grand Rapids-based vice president and customer banking market leader for Bank of America, agreed with these findings, saying he has noticed over the course of his 17-year career in banking and finance a gradual decline in financial literacy among families. Although many parents today might be saving for their kids’ college education with 529 savings plans, it seems fewer are teaching their children the financial basics, Spangler said.

In partnership with the Khan Academy, Bank of America hosts a web platform called Better Money Habits that offers a variety of videos and interactive tools on topics such as credit, debit, saving and budgeting, home- and auto ownership, retirement, college, privacy and security, personal banking, and taxes and income.

The content is divided up by stage of life and includes a section for students in addition to materials for other audiences. The section for students, among other important topics, demystifies student loans and helps the reader understand what they are getting into if they go that route.

“One thing that we really recommend is making sure that students and parents alike know the true cost of the education that they’re investing in,” Spangler said. “I know for a fact that when I graduated from college, I was a little shocked at the student loan numbers. … I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me some anxiety.”

Spangler said Bank of America lets customers know about the free online tools, but the bank also offers in-person trainings at schools and workplaces from Better Money Habits-certified associates.

“We don’t just provide the site, but we actually take some steps to really bring it to life,” he said.

The in-person trainings were on pause during the first part of the pandemic, but Spangler said the bank plans to resume sessions hopefully this year.

“I love it because we tailor what we’re talking about to the audience,” he said. “Typically, if it’s a teacher or a professor, whoever it is, we’ll work with them to see what are the top one or two things that your students would love to hear about? And we bring those resources to those meetings, and we don’t just talk at people. That’s a very big part of what we do in our training is we will have a half-hour of content or sometimes 45 minutes, but we really want to make sure that we leave time for Q&A and interactions.”

Spangler said he feels the Better Money Habits sessions are a success when there is a high level of audience engagement, like there was at a past workshop at the Special Olympics of Michigan and another one at a local university.

“The other associate and I that were hosting this (college) session, we had almost an hour of Q&A after we got done with the content, and it made for a long day, but both of us were just so happy there were so many fantastic questions that we had a chance to answer and give some guidance on, and I think it was just so needed,” he said.

Although the bank’s employees give advice and guidance to families and young people at its banking offices, too, Spangler said Better Money Habits is a great tool for going deeper.

“I would say that’s the outcome, is just to give back to the community and hopefully utilize (our knowledge). All of us have a different skillset — in my role, I have several financial centers that I’m responsible for — and the other associates that are part of this program may be a home lending specialist or an investment specialist, or they might have another area of specialization, but we just want to provide education,” he said.

Besides Better Money Habits, Spangler said when bank associates are working with young people helping them set up their accounts, they also offer guidance on using the bank’s mobile app to set up text alerts regarding transactions, bank balances and progress toward goals to help keep the customer on track.

“There is a lot of powerful technology that we bring to the table, and I know a lot of banks do now,” he said.

Spangler said it’s never too early for parents to begin conversations with their children about money.

“From my perspective, involvement is key, and I would say every child is different, and obviously we leave it up to our parents and caregivers to make decisions in terms of what’s best for each child, but I would say involvement is definitely key and making sure that you’re taking the appropriate steps at the appropriate times.”

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