Pay it forward: put financial literacy on your checklist for 2011

April 18, 2011

By Amy Johnson, senior manager, public relations

iStock_000015376854SmallApril is national Financial Literacy Month. It’s a reason to remind people to pay more attention to their personal financial health. Not just for 30 days but every day of the year.

You only have to browse the daily paper or online news to know that Americans are in serious need of financial guidance.

The New York Times reported this week that in 2010, student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time.

A February study by found nearly one out of four Americans (23%) have greater credit card debt than emergency savings and one in three of these are in the 30 – 49 age group.

Some of these statistics can be attributed to peoples’ poor choices. But how much more of it is really owing to the economic crisis far beyond any one person’s control? Too many Ohioans were simply caught in the crossfire and are trying hard to recover.

How can CPA’s help?

By sharing your expertise to help people move the needle in the right direction. That could mean speaking to a group of baby boomers at your church about estate tax changes, counseling someone on debt management or reduction, or helping a neighbor explore college financing options.

OSCPA has a wealth of tools CPAs can use to jump start your formal or informal financial education outreach efforts.

The Proud 2B a CPA Marketing toolkit can guide you through promoting yourself as a local speaker and becoming an expert financial resource for local media. It includes a client-ready quarterly newsletter and PowerPoint presentations that you can download and use immediately.

If you just want to point people to resources they can use on their own, Financial Fitness Ohio, a joint initiative of OSCPA and The Ohio CPA Foundation, offers timely articles, financial calculators and resources on lots of financial topics for the public. is a consumer-friendly site that consolidates financial education help from over 20 different Federal websites in one place.

Check off for Financial Literacy

Helping kids grow into financially responsible adults is a passion and a goal at OSCPA. This November, CPAs will once again teach FETCH! in elementary classrooms across Ohio. This fun game teaches kids how to budget, spend wisely and save.

You can help be part of this fun event. We will be recruiting new volunteer teams this summer. To sponsor a FETCH! class, check off Yes for Fetch! when OSCPA members renew their dues in May, or anyone can donate now.

Pay it forward

Your credibility and experience as a financial expert is invaluable. But so is your list of personal contacts. Tapping it is an easy way to help others that doesn’t require a huge investment of personal time.

Throughout April, a friend of mine is inviting Facebook friends to contact him if they need a job, have a job to fill, or are looking for a particular service for their personal or professional needs. In two days, he gave out four business referrals and helped 2 people land jobs simply by connecting his friends and business contacts.

Sometimes paying it forward pays huge dividends in helping people to improve their financial situation. Make April the month you put financial literacy on your priority check list.


FETCH! delivers fun with learning for 5th & 6th graders

November 29, 2010

Walter J. Eckert, CPA, CVA
Russell, Eckert, Mealer & Kalb, CPA’s Inc.

Fetch_logo_120x60 The morning of November 10 started a little noisier than usual for me. I’m a CPA, but instead of heading into my office, I headed to London Elementary School in Madison County to lead 5th graders in a new game called FETCH! This wasn’t for gym class and the students weren’t running after sticks, this was for math class and the students were learning about financial literacy.

FETCH! stands for Financial Education Teaches Healthy Habits. The game is sponsored by The Ohio CPA Foundation to teach kids important concepts like saving and budgeting. Plus, I was able to tell the kids what it’s like to be CPA and work in the accounting profession.

FETCH! in itself is a simple game. Using a dog park concept, the students are divided into teams and each team takes ownership of an imaginary dog, which they must name and then assume responsibility for the financial ups and downs of owning a pet. The goal of the game is to purchase four items: collar, leash, food and water, and a dog bone. At the end, the team that has those four items and the most money in their imaginary savings account wins.

In the first couple rounds of the game all the teams were eager to roll the dice and see if they could earn more money. The room was loud as the teams had fun hoping to build their savings balance. This was all fine and good until…one of the teams got caught by the dog catcher for not having a leash or collar.

You could almost hear the click in their heads. Each of the teams began to realize that while the money in the savings account was good to have, there were responsibilities and expenses for their dog that needed to be taken care of. More importantly, they realized that there were risks for NOT taking care of their financial responsibilities.

From that point, strategizing became part of the game plan for each team. Whether they decided to spend some of their savings to buy one of the required items or roll the dice to see what might happen in the dog park, they planned each move. They were saving and spending and budgeting to make sure their dog and their team had what it needed.

A couple teams saw their saving account balances hit $0 and one team went into the negative. There is no credit allowed in FETCH! so these teams had to build up their savings accounts again to continue purchasing the four required items. Along the way, the teams learned money management terms such as earnings, expenses, auditing, donations and many others.

FETCH! was an absolute success in this classroom. I was impressed (as was their teacher, Mr. Reeser) at how quickly the kids picked up on the concept of budgeting for their expenses. The collar and the leash were the two most expensive items they had to buy, but nearly every team made sure they saved enough to buy them first to avoid the penalty of the dog catcher. The cheaper dog bone (the dog’s luxury item) was typically the last item purchased. They learned to budget the “needs” before the “wants” – a concept that many adults have problems with.

As a father to two young boys I know that teaching the concepts of budgeting, earning and saving takes time and practice. If money grew on trees it would be easy to give our children everything they ask for. But, it doesn’t. So parents and teachers need to give children the right tools and information to become smart money managers. FETCH! is a great tool to use to start the conversation with children, have them practice the concepts and get them on the path towards financial literacy. Plus, they will have a good time too!

Are American’s doing enough to educate on financial literacy?

August 20, 2010

creditcards Representatives from major banks and credit card companies have been popping up on U.S. college campuses for years, each attempting to reel in unsuspecting, unemployed students who have no problem racking up a little debt. Sure, having credit to your name isn’t a bad thing, but the problem becomes more than just a little debt when you have tuition to pay, books to buy, food to eat and socializing to do.

But since the passage of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or the Credit CARD Act of 2009, college freshmen and sophomores wishing to sign-up for a shiny piece of plastic require a co-signer if they’re under the age of 21. Not only that, but the law also prevents credit card companies from participating on college campuses and at university-themed events unless a valid reason is provided. And the “swag” that comes along with signing on the dotted line? Forget it. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 outlaws the giving of gifts or any promotional items to entice students.

I never fell for the lure of these credit card companies when I was on a college campus, but I did however sign-up for my own credit card prior to my freshman year in college. I was raised with great financial values. Having worked since I was 14, I knew how to manage my money and I was paying for my own bills. I could certainly handle my own credit card, right?

It wasn’t long though, before I started using my credit card for little purchases here and there. And that low credit limit that I started out with mysteriously kept rising higher and higher. Before I knew it, I was up thousands of dollars in credit card dept and only making the minimum payments. This went on for years. And although I stopped using the credit card, the balance kept going up. Climbing interest rates can be really hard to swallow.

So here I am, nine years since opening that credit card, and just this past spring (after years of non-use and minimum payments) found myself with enough money to pay off the entire balance in one lump sum.

Does that scenario sound familiar? It’s obvious that something needs to change. According to, the average credit card debt per household is $15,788, and the Federal Reserve’s G.19 report on consumer credit cites that the total U.S. revolving debt (98% of which is made up of credit card debt) is at $826.5 billion, as of June 2010.

To prevent these statistics from rising further, Ohio’s General Assembly passed Ohio Core legislation mandating financial literacy education for students beginning high school in the 2010 academic year.

The Ohio CPA Foundation stepped up and responded with programs to help students understand the importance of being financially smart. Through the Ohio CPA Foundation, OSCPA is committed to helping elementary students and high school students through two new programs being launched this fall:

In response to requests from teachers and OSCPA members to offer a program that addresses financial literacy basics such as budgeting, saving and spending at the elementary school level, The Ohio CPA Foundation created a new classroom activity, called FETCH!™: Financial Education Teaches Children Healthy Habits™.

The High School Personal Finance Program helps students in grades 9-12. By teaming up with Junior Achievement (JA), OSCPA members have the opportunity to assist educators in meeting this educational requirement firsthand through JA’s Personal Finance Program. The Junior Achievement Personal Finance Program introduces students to the importance of making wise financial decisions. Its curriculum demonstrates the importance of planning, goal-setting, and thoughtful choices within the context of personal financial decisions.

For more Financial Literacy resources, visit OSCPA’s Financial Fitness Ohio webpage for articles on every life stage, finding a CPA, small business and financial planning resources and more.

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