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Gaylord, JLAS students receive personal finance instruction from online program - Gaylord Herald Times

GAYLORD — Many of the most important decisions we make in life revolve around money. Yet many are never exposed to instruction on the basics of budgeting, saving, debt management, and investing.

In the Gaylord Community Schools and the Johannesburg Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS), students and teachers have free access to Banzai, an online financial literacy program and content library of articles, calculators, and personalizable coaches. All of these resources are available to students at home or in the classroom via any device that can access the internet.

Community Financial Credit Union has provided the schools with access to Banzai.

"Our partnerships with the districts includes student-run credit unions in the schools and a career readiness program to prepare interested students for a job in financial institutions," said Natalie McLaughlin, community relations manager for Community Financial, a not-for-profit financial institution headquartered in Plymouth with 13 branches in Michigan including Gaylord and Lewiston.

McLaughlin said Banzai can be used for a class or individual learning program.

"We started Banzai prior to the (coronavirus) pandemic but it became even more important in the past year during periods of remote learning," she said.

"Banzai allows students to go through a one month budget simulation in which they make choices," McLaughlin said. "They are taught the basics of checking and saving accounts, fee structures — all the things you need to consider when choosing a financial institution."

She said there is a section on credit "which is important because students may start taking out loans to further their education or perhaps even to buy a car when graduating."

Credit scores are part of the curriculum.

"We get into what is a credit score and why it is important. For example when you apply to rent an apartment a landlord may look at your credit score," said McLaughlin.

The course explores important details including how late payments on credit cards or loans can negatively affect a credit score or the amount of interest charged.

"On certain credit cards there may be terms that enable the company issuing the card  to bump up the interest rate if a payment is late," added McLaughlin.

The Banzai program doesn't cost the Gaylord or JLAS schools anything as Community Financial picks up the cost, McLaughlin said.

As of 2020, high school students in 21 states (including Michigan) were required to take a personal finance course to graduate, according to the Council for Economic Education, which promotes economic and personal finance education for students in kindergarten through high school.

"Banzai is a web-based financial literacy program. Kids get their own accounts, and they work through assignments that are based on real life," Morgan Vandagriff, co-founder of Banzai said in a statement. "Local schools get it for free. More than ever, it's important that kids develop sound financial skills to prepare them for the real world, and Community Financial realizes that and they're doing something about it."

McLaughlin said Banzai was developed by school curriculum directors and is used by over 75,000 teachers across the U.S.