An app for that? Five financial apps for your teen.


It's never been easier to help your child manage spending and saving. In fact, there's an app for that.

This is great news for me, because I'm all for simplifying processes. My plan has always been to use a couple different accounts with my teen, both locally and at an online bank (where we can typically get a better interest rate). I'm also exploring options to help him put a toe into the water regarding investing. For charitable giving he uses our local gem of a resource SHARE Charlotte and periodically gives to several international charities as well. As for how much of his existing funds are designated for giving, well, that's on a regularly-updated post-it note stuck to the inside of an old, repurposed checkbook.

It's a little bit of a disjointed experience for him, so when I saw this Wall Street Journal article highlight five apps or mobile-friendly sites that can be used to help kids save, spend and donate, I decided to check it out.

All the services featured share some similarities (some are free, most have pretty low monthly or annual fees). All appear user friendly and easy to use. See below for my thoughts on their differences and when they might be the best fit.

BusyKid
BusyKid shares many features with the other apps listed but what caught my attention was the added benefit of allowing kids to buy and sell fractional shares of stock. This is done through a partnership with Stockpile. You'll be asked to open a custodial account and according to the BusyKid website there is a $2.99 fee per transaction. This feature was unique to all five services featured, so worth a look if it's something interesting for your teen. BusyKid also provides a set list of charities to which your child can donate. As of now you aren't able to add any additional charities, although that's coming in the future.

Chore Check
This is more of a straight up "chores for allowance" app. Again, it looks very easy to use. Because our family doesn't pay allowance based on specific chores, it's not a good fit for us. But it's a nice option if you are looking for something a little more straightforward without the layered functionality of some of the other apps featured.

Current
Current has several really useful features like the ability to automate allowance, limit and block spending in certain categories and automate savings by "rounding up" purchases. As for giving, if the charity your child is interested in isn't listed, the company says they are willing to add it. I also like the ability to use this with an existing bank account. Current, along with several other of these apps, also makes it easy for kids to separate their spend, save and give "wallets." That's a bigger deal than it sounds like, and much easier than trying to keep records manually.

FamZoo
This app is also a prepaid debit card with many of the benefits of Current. What I love about FamZoo is the amount of financial literacy they build into their product design and marketing. Creative touches include a parent-paid interest option, informal loan tracking (you can charge your child an interest rate if you want to), ability to set savings goals, etc. Follow founder Bill Dwight (@FamZoo) for a steady stream of good ideas around kids and financial literacy.

Greenlight
Greenlight is more of a pure spending app for your child. Key features that set it apart include the ability to pre-approve activity down to a specific store. This app will keep it simple and is great if your family already has a plan in place for saving and giving with a primary goal of finding a pre-paid card with a lot of parental control.


Now that I've spent some time with each these five services, will we be switching to any of them? Probably not. The processes we have in place now may be a little clunky, but they work pretty well for us (and they meet some other goals that we have as a family) and so we're sticking with our current systems. As for charitable giving, my teen is more of a "free range" giver, as he explores causes and methods of giving that are meaningful to him. I'd hate to limit him to a more narrow list of options.

So while I'm interested in the investing ability through BusyKid, and I particularly love the depth of FamZoo, I think we will stay with the homegrown system we currently have. If I had it to do over again, I would very likely consider these options and probably start with a deeper dive into FamZoo.

Whether you decide to go with one of these services or come up with your own system, allow me to climb on my soapbox one final time, please. Most of these apps allow kids and parents to communicate via text and online messaging, which I think is fantastic since my teen seems to forget how to dial a phone on a regular basis (but can always remember how to text). But, successful financial literacy requires lots of parent involvement. No app or online education can take the place of the coaching and conversations we should have with our kids about money and managing it successfully. Ideally, all this great tech can support that one on one time.


WhatsMyScore.org helps prep your college students for the real world

As I watch friends pack up college-aged kids and head off to campuses around the country it hit me: these kids need to have a solid foundation in financial literacy. Not just "need" like you need a good slice of pizza every once in a while, but they need it in a life-changing you-better-make-sure-you-got-this kind of way.

So while you're waiting for your first "proof of life" text or email, I hope this resource will be just the productive distraction you need.

I've already written about Visa's Practical Money Skills website in an earlier post as a great find for middle and high school aged kids. Whatsmyscore.org is Visa's offering for college students. It focuses primarily on credit but you'll find some other good stuff in there as well. 

Different parts of the site will appeal to different students depending on where they are in their college journey. The list below is divided by the stage your child is in--either a college freshman or just heading out into the real, post-college world.

New to college
Money Guides - Look here for help with renting a car, thinking about housing, saving money on textbooks and more. 
Break the Code - Quick dive into choosing the best credit card, what goes into a credit score and how to look at your credit report. If they are up for it have them look over The Facts for some quick "do's and don'ts" of credit.
Money101 Student Workbook - It's not nearly as awful as the word "workbook" makes it sound. In fact it's an easy read, full of really relevant info for kids about to be on their own for the first time, with topics like good record keeping, which I love. If you aren't comfortable walking your kid through the process when you reconcile your own bank account, this workbook has a simplified example on page 19 that will do the trick. 

Graduating college
Welcome to the Real World - Information on paperwork and taxes, budgeting and student loans. 
The Facts - Helpful even if your college graduate is comfortable with concepts around credit and debt, particularly "7 Common Mistakes That Can Lower Your Credit Score."





Mom, what if there's another recession?

Kids say the darndest things.

Along with worrying about whether or not they have a date for the homecoming dance and how to finally get rid of that acne, teens today seem to have some pretty weighty issues on their minds. The smart phone in their pocket brings the world, with its political complications and economic upheavals, right to them.

My teen is no exception. Recently he asked "Mom, what if we have another recession?"

Whether I answered his question sufficiently is up for debate, but I'll list the points I made in my response (below) along with a few resources you can use if you're faced with a similar situation.

In trying to develop financial literacy skills in my teen, I'm always working for balance. That means I'm trying not to overload him with so many details that he glazes over, but give him enough data so it's real. Although he's asking about a recession, don't get hung up on technical definitions. What he really wants to know is "will we be okay if something unexpected happens."

Here's what I told my teen.

- It's not really a question of "if" we will have another recession, but "when."
- That said, while the recession in 2008-2009 is the one many teens will be thinking about, there have been many others (here are a few).
- I told him (briefly) about the savings and loan crisis that closed the S&L in our town and the dot-com bust that came later.
- People lost jobs and money in both. But (and here was the important part as far as my teen was concerned) we came through it in the end.
- As a family we believe two ways to weather storms like a recession or crisis are to build up our emergency fund and diversify our investments.

We'd already worked through some of the resources on the #FinLit Menu for Parents (like fun this TedED video about economic bubbles and tulips). That made the whole conversation a lot easier for both of us.

VISA's Practical Money Skills provides
tips for building an emergency fund.
That's how I handled it. You might find a different or better way, based on your family's situation. However you decide to approach it, here are some resources you might find helpful.

Building an Emergency Fund
Publisher: Practical Money Skills by VISA

What causes economic bubbles? 
Publisher: TEDEd

The dot com bubble explained in one minute
Publisher: One Minute Economics

Savings and Loan Crisis
Publisher: Federal Reserve History

A Review of Past Recessions
Publisher: Investopedia

Financial Concepts: Diversification
Publisher: Investopedia

Planning for the Unexpected
Publisher: Practical Money Skills by VISA

What Causes Business Cycles?
Publisher: Practical Money Skills by VISA

Deeper Dive: Practical Money Skills by VISA

You'll find this post most helpful if:
- you're a parent with a pre-teen or teenager.
- you're looking for a one-stop solution for boosting your child's financial literacy and you're wondering if Practical Money Skills fits the bill.

Things you should know:
- Practical Money Skills is part of VISA's long-term efforts to develop education programs for people of all ages.
- The resource is free. No login or account is required.

Things I like:
- Practical Money Skills provides a huge variety of resources for teachers and individuals (or parents).

- Games. I love a good game. Check out Money Metropolis (ages 7-12) and Financial Football (ages 11 and up). Financial Football is an NFL-themed game developed by Visa in partnership with the NFL. If your child is into soccer, they've got that covered with Financial Soccer. The games are designed to be used as a classroom tool and lesson plans are provided, but parents can use them as a stand alone (fun!) activity. Use the info threaded throughout game play to spark conversations.

- A wealth of free materials including apps for everything from budgeting for prom to tracking what you spend on lunch. As for me, I'm most excited about their two comic books (featuring Marvel's Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy).

Kid-friendly resources from Practical Money Skills
- There is no shortage of good info in this section for parents as well, including primers on budgeting, prepaid credit cards and identity theft. Most can be downloaded right from the website although the comic books need to be shipped (within 3-4 weeks of ordering). I'm a Marvel geek so it will be interesting to see who gets to the mailbox first, me or my teenager.

- If you're looking for something your kid can work through on their own, start to finish, check out Your Money, Your Future. This section seems best for pre-teens and young teens. It covers the basics under the categories of earn, save, budget, spend, borrow, protect and give. These really are primers, so if your teen has some previous experience with financial education this may prove too basic.

- If you need something that's a little more in-depth look at the Learn section of the website. Because it's largely text-based (versus games) it will be a better fit for teens and young adults. Topics covered include saving, budgeting, financial institutions, credit, debt and identify theft. This is where you'll find info about the Rule of 72, compound interest and a check writing/deposit slip demo. The section on credit does a nice job of defining common terms and discussing what it takes to maintain a good credit score.

- You'll also see a section on Life Events which will be a good resource for your college-bound senior (topics include going to college and buying a car). If your teen or young adult really wants to geek out on financial terms and concepts, check out Economy 101. It's where they will find short explanations of business cycles, monetary policy, human capital and more. It's not a bad resource for parents as well. In fact, I'm heading over for a refresher course right after I finish this post.

Prepaid cards are also covered a little more than I've seen in some other resources. I have not used prepaid cards, and there are differing opinions on whether they are the best way to introduce kids to financial products. However there are a number of providers you can go through to get them. The one I hear about the most frequently is FamZoo. I have not researched their offering, but I'm happy to hear about your experiences with them if you have.

Bottom Line
Practical Money Skills by VISA has something for everyone. I really like the breadth of their offering. It will work for your pre-teen, teen or college age student. Just use the information above to zero in on the part that works best for you.

Deeper Dive: Warren Buffet's Secret Millionaires Club

You'll find this post most helpful if:
- you're a parent with an elementary school age child.
- you're looking for a one-stop solution for boosting your child's financial literacy and you're wondering if Warren Buffet's Secret Millionaires Club (SMCKids) fits the bill.

Things to know:
- SMCKids is a free, online financial literacy resource designed for kids.
- The site is sponsored by Genius Brands International and features Warren Buffet as one of several animated characters.
- No account or login is needed to use the site or work through the activities.

Things I like:
- The content is well presented and delivered almost entirely through animated video (webisodes) and comics (both digital and PDF, which is cool) and games. It's all geared toward holding the attention of older elementary and even middle school age kids.
- This resource covers a wide range of what I would consider to be foundational topics, from saving to debt with life lessons thrown in for good measure (learn from your mistakes, build a good reputation).
- Who doesn't love a well designed game? There are four games available on this website but Number Blaster and Counting Money are the two that kids will be drawn to immediately. The other "games" include a quiz and a business building exercise. Interesting, but I don't think kids will think of it as a game.

Things I'm not crazy about:
- I actually really like this resource for younger kids, although I think teens might not be as enthusiastic about the presentation.
My high-tech way of helping my
teen practice making change.
- There isn't much here for teens in the way of topics like checking, savings, student loans, etc. but that's not what this resource was intended to do.

Bottom line:
This resource is geared toward elementary and possibly middle school age kids. It's really well presented and I think younger kids will enjoy watching the webisodes and being introduced to the wisdom of the Sage of Omaha (Warren Buffet) through a medium they enjoy.

I will share this website with my friends who have younger kids, but I plan to have my teen go through the Counting Money game for some extra practice. Side note: you can also do a version of this game at home using real coins and some paper "bills." We've done this a few times on the kitchen table with money from the loose change jar. It's a good way to reinforce the concept and it gave me a chance to share some of my own teenager horror stories from my fast food register days! I'm sure your teen will love hearing your stories about as much as mine did :)



Deeper Dive: The Mint by Northwestern Mutual

You'll find this post most helpful if:
- you're a parent with a child aged (roughly) 10 through young adult.
- you're looking for a one-stop solution for boosting your child's financial literacy and you're wondering if The Mint fits the bill.
Note: don't confuse this resource with Mint.com, which is a money management tool provided by Intuit.


Things to know:
- TheMint.org is a free, online financial literacy resource designed for kids, teens and college students.
- The site is sponsored by Northwestern Mutual.
- No account or login is needed to use the site or work through the activities.
- Once you decide which section you and your teen are interested in (see below), you can hand the laptop or tablet to them, so there is no need to create a curriculum from scratch (although I recommend ongoing family discussions about topics covered). Do check out the caveats below to make sure the content will hold your teen's interest.

Things I like:
- A good range of topics is covered for teens: earning, saving, spending, owing, tracking, giving, investing, safeguarding. If you're looking for a more robust discussion on investing, check out the #FinLit Menu for Parents for some ideas. The Mint stays pretty general and covers a few topics (like series EE bonds) that will be of little interest to your young teen).

- I really like the simple approach to explaining the Rule of 72 Calculator and the ability to play with the concept in an interactive exercise.

- In fact, I liked a number of the calculators and tools on the site. The Spending Challenge takes students through a virtual 16 week time period and presents them with unexpected expenses and choices (takes 5-10 minutes to complete). The Debt Calculator is also easy to use and interesting for teens and older kids.

- Check writing is covered, with an interactive exercise that lets your teen fill one out virtually. Hurray! (The down side is there is no discussion of current payment transfer tools, like Venmo, Square Cash or PayPal, which are the types of tools teens will be more likely to use).

- Why is $10 saved on a $39.95 purchase worth more than $10 saved on a $1,099 purchase? Answer: it's not, and Tricks Our Minds Play With Money is an eye-opening (for me, anyway) discussion about our perceptions of money that's worth having your teen read.

- This resource is really easy to navigate. The amount of content on most pages is kept manageable, a lot of the content is interactive and links are easy to locate.

- TheMintGrad is actually a separate site that looks up to date and may prove helpful for your college age student. I did not review it, but you can check it out here.

Things I'm not crazy about:
- The content on the site is dated. The references to iPods and a lack of info about current money transfer tools like Venmo could make your teen tune out early on. The "The Truth About Millionaires Quiz" uses data from 1998 (although the general points it makes are still relevant). Interest rate examples don't reflect the current rate environment, FDIC coverage amounts listed for money market accounts are outdated, etc.

None of these are necessarily deal breakers but might turn your teen off and will certainly require some additional coaching from you. If you use this resource I would suggest keeping the focus on the concepts covered (which are good) and letting your teen know a number of the details have changed.


Bottom line:
You can hand this website to your teen and ask them to go through it, knowing they will cover a lot of the basics. However, the content is dated in some places and the writing might seem stilted to a teenager. There are no references to some of topics that are relevant to today's teens (like cash transfer apps) and that you might think are important (like online security, or the effect of inflation on money).

It may be more effective if you point them to the specific sections and exercises you think are relevant and use some of the other resources in the #FinLit Menu for Parents to round out the content.




Do teens need to learn to balance a checkbook?

Once your teen opens a checking account it becomes pretty apparent that she needs to learn how to balance a checkbook. Or does she?

Most of us just don't write many checks anymore. A Federal Reserve study in 2016 showed a sharp decline in check writing over the past decade and a half. In fact, a lot of the activity in a typical checking account is made up of anything but checks (debit card transactions, automatic deposits and withdrawals and the like).

So if we aren't writing checks, are we balancing our check registers in the traditional (old-school-way-that-mom-did-it) sense? A lot of people aren't. Once I thought about it, I realized I wasn't either. I love the time saving features of online banking and personal finance software and I'm even warming up to some of the mobile cash payment apps.

Still, checks aren't going anywhere soon for a number of reasons. That means your teen not only needs to know how to write a check, but understand how and why money flows in and out of her account.

With that in mind my teen worked with a paper and pen register for a good long while before transitioning fully online. But that might not be your approach. However you tackle it, here are some resources to help you get started.

How to balance a checkbook
These instructions from NerdWallet are straightforward and can give your teen an idea of how and why balancing a checking account on a regular (if not monthly) basis is a good idea. The article also links to budgeting apps like You Need a Budget (YNAB) and Mint.

Personal finance software
Even if you still somehow manage your finances on paper (don't worry, it's our secret), your teen won't. Here's a comparison of personal finance software from InvestorJunkie and a few more from nerdwallet).

Start here: The #FinLit Menu for Parents

When my son entered his teens I started to get serious about financial literacy in a way I should have been years before.  The good new...