Making dollars make sense


Students in the Finance Club at Detroit Catholic Central High School competed in a national financial literacy contest with the help of Catholic Vantage Financial earlier this spring. Local Catholic credit unions say it’s part of their mission to help students understand basic financial literacy. Courtesy photo

Plymouth — High school juniors are familiar with taking SAT and ACT examinations.

Reading comprehension, math and science, filling out small bubbles with a No. 2 pencil and scribbling a well-composed essay in 10 minutes, all to show they’re ready for college.

But for all the book knowledge students have when they graduate, there could be a practical piece of knowledge a formal education might overlook — do students know how to write a check?

Financial literacy — knowing how credit scores work, how to negotiate for a better interest loan and the advantages of paying credit card debt early — is a key tool for any student soon to be living on their own.

“Part of our mission, and the mission of all credit unions, is doing what we can to educate members about positive financial habits,” said Keith Burke, vice president of information and strategic growth at Alliance Catholic Credit Union. “At Alliance, we’ve taken that to a habit with how we support Catholic communities around the area we serve.”

Alliance has formed a partnership with a software company called Banzai, an online financial literacy program teachers can use to teach students good financial habits.

The free program is available to any school in the Catholic High School League, allowing teachers the ability to incorporate basic financial literacy into their lesson plans.

“The program provides real-world financial scenarios to teach kids what it means to be financially responsible,” Burke said. “They go through a program which creates real-world decisions with money, understanding the implications of those decisions. They work though the program and understand their life choices and the implications of financial literacy concepts.”

Some financial concepts are simple, such as managing a checking account and budgeting, but others are more advanced, such as credit scores and investing in retirement funds.

Catholic Vantage Financial offers a workshop for graduating seniors that covers practical lessons such as how car payments work and what a credit score can do to a person’s application for an apartment.

“Earlier this spring, we worked with Catholic Central in Novi and its Finance Club, bringing them to a national financial challenge and testing their skills with everyday types of financial literacy,” said Emma Teller, vice president of marketing and business development with Catholic Vantage. “They scored well enough to place second in regionals, so we went downtown at the Federal Reserve and finished second.”

In addition to doing classroom presentations, Catholic Vantage hosted a “financial reality fair,” a game in which students had to make financial decisions based on their salary and life situation.

“We likened it to a game of Life, going to different stations, with each station provided with a career and salary with student-loan debt,” Teller said. “The students needed to get housing, transportation and insurance. They had to keep a budget with their monthly income. The learned how to manage their budget to cover all they had to pay for, plus unforeseen expenses.”

Teller said most high school students understand the basics of living within their means, but were shocked to learn what a bad credit score can do.

“I think the credit score was a piece they didn’t realize was going to affect things beyond car buying,” Teller said. It affects insurance premiums, employment, whether or not you get an apartment. Also the scenarios showed them the importance of having money to save or invest at the end of the month, and saving not only for what’s required, but entertainment and clothing.”

Both Catholic Vantage Financial and Alliance Catholic Credit Union said they’ll be expanding their financial literacy programs this academic year as part of their sponsorship of the Catholic High School League, but also their social responsibility to create smart, financially prudent citizens.

“We know an informed consumer is a good consumer, that’s why we’re advocates for financial literacy, so they can make better choices with that information,” Teller said. “The financial reality fair is a really cool hands-on experience for them, and we offer it to all our high schools. We want these students to know what it takes to be financially successful.”

Catholic credit unions

For more details about the financial literacy programs and services available to Catholic schools through local Catholic credit unions, visit or