Celebrating 25 Years Of Teaching Kids How To Manage And Mind Their Money

by Paul Kashmann

If you’re looking for a home mortgage loan nowadays, you can go to most banks and – if your credit score meets the bean counters’ approval – get the purchase financed for well under 4 percent.

Getting a couple hundred grand or more is not as costly as it once was, and potential lenders are tripping over themselves to get you into their line-up for six- or seven-figure deals.

But what do you do if you’re 10 years old, and you want to borrow a few bucks to finance a kid-sized business you’ve dreamed of starting? Or you’re 13 and need tickets to a high-priced concert your folks don’t want to fund? Or 17, and on fire for your own car?

And where can you turn for objective advice – sales-pitch-free – on what loans make sense, how much to save, how to secure a credit card or take out a college loan? The answer, friends, just happens to be right in your own backyard.

The late Bill Daniels, Denver-based pioneer of the cable TV industry and self-made billionaire, read an article back in 1984 about a group of local students who tried unsuccessfully to get a bank loan to finance a class project at their school. Daniels was concerned that our educational system was failing to teach children basic principles of economics and finance, leaving them ill prepared to fend for themselves in important areas of their lives.

To help rectify that situation, Daniels sought out others of similar mind, and in 1987 opened Young Americans Bank (YAB) in Cherry Creek North. The only FDIC insured, state-chartered bank in the nation devoted exclusively to providing financial education and banking services to clients age 21 and under, the bank, located at 3550 E. 1st Ave., is celebrating its 25th year in business this month. The Daniels Fund, created with a billion dollar bequest from Daniels upon his passing in 2000, is the sole supporter of YAB, covering any losses that might occur through the course of daily operations.

Spokesperson Katie Payer explained that since its inception YAB has provided banking services to some 70,000 young people from across Colorado and neighboring states. “Currently, we have about 16,000 active accounts,” she explained. “About 15,000 are savings, the remainder are a mix of credit cards, a few loans and some checking accounts. Our sweet spot is kids around 7 or 8 until about age 14. That’s where most of our programs are aimed, and when most of our young people advance in their learning about money.

“At present we have loans out ranging from $35 to several thousand,” said Payer.  “Many of them are unsecured. The point here is to educate. Kids need to learn about the process and the vocabulary and how these things work, so they’re fully prepared when it’s time for a house or college loan.” Legally, the bank is required to have parents co-sign on all accounts for children under 18.

To spur learning, Young Americans Center For Financial Education, the non-profit educational arm of the operation, holds a variety of classes that cover the full spectrum of financial education from “coin recognition for 3-year-olds, to budgeting and saving for college for teenagers.” To help spread their message of financial responsibility, YAB partners with 230 schools throughout the area, serving some 30,000 children each year. Their reach has extended to more than 500,000 young Americans since 1987.

In addition to the basic classes, a variety of special programs and summer camps help deepen students’ understanding of financial principles. Young AmeriTowne is an award-winning educational program offered to 5th and 6th grade teachers to help teach students about business, economics and free enterprise in a fun, hands-on way. Classroom lessons prepare students for the culminating experience, a day in Young AmeriTowne, where students apply concepts they’ve learned by working together to operate a 17- business town, set up at the Cherry Creek site.

For budding financiers wanting to take things to the next level, the Center provides a similar program teaching 6th, 7th and 8th graders about global economics, capped by a visit to International Towne, designed not simply as a single town, but as a 16-country mini-world.

Students in rural environs are given a special nod to the unique needs of their financial studies. A second location of Young Americans Center for Financial Education is located in Wray, Colo., just four miles from the Kansas border. The programs offered reach students across the eastern plains of Colorado and the borders of Kansas and Nebraska. “We’ve tweaked the programs so they address rural issues more accurately,” explained Payer.

Young Americans Bank is expanding its local reach by opening its first branch location at the Evie Garrett Dennis Denver Public Schools campus in Green Valley Ranch, later this year or early 2013. “We’re very excited to be expanding into this new area, that should profit greatly from increased banking services for young people as well as our educational outreach.”

For more information about Young Americans Bank or any of the programs of Young Americans Center For Financial Education, visit yacenter.org or call 303-321-2265.