Deeper Dive: CashCourse by NEFE

You'll find this post most helpful if
- you're a parent with an older teen or new college student.
- you're looking for a one-stop solution for boosting your teen's financial literacy and you're wondering if CashCourse fits the bill.

Things to know
- CashCourse is a free, online financial literacy resource for college students, created by the nonprofit National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Take a video tour (under two minutes) to get an idea of the look and feel of the program. It's easy to set up a free account and go through the materials even if you're not affiliated with a participating college or university.

- The material is written with college students in mind so some of the topics like buying a first car, managing financial aid and paying for a wedding may seem a little abstract for younger teens. If your teen's college experience is in the near future, a lot of the content will be of interest.

- Once you familiarize yourself with the broad topics to see if they cover what 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).  There are a few exceptions that you might want to know about. Financial Roadmap for Parents is somewhat oddly inserted under Save & Invest, but most content is directly created for your teen/young adult.

Things I like
- Topics are arranged in a logical order: Earn, Save & Invest, Protect, Spend, Borrow and Pay for Education. There are also some handy tools that can be used along with the topics or on their own. like easy-to-use financial calculators (favorites of mine: "How long will it take to pay off my credit card(s)?" and "How will payroll adjustments affect my take-home pay?"). The Budget Wizard is easy to run and easy to customize. The Financial Experts section of the site gives users a chance for some Q&A with folks who know their stuff when it comes to financial independence.

- The course covers things I might not have thought to include if I were putting a list of topics together on my own, like budgeting for an unpaid internship and calculating your future salary. I want my teen to love his chosen field, but I also want him to go in with eyes wide open as far as potential earnings if he decides to be, for instance, an itinerant poet versus an electrical engineer.

- If you and your teen are already well into the college and financial aid process the information included in Pay for Education might be too basic. Otherwise, it's a good introduction to the topic.

- The discussion on the pros and cons of credit and debit cards goes into a little more detail than I've seen in other sources (for instance, explaining that your teen can be held accountable for $500 worth of unauthorized purchases if you do not report a debit card theft within 48 hours). But I still like this 8 minute video from a different source as a very general tour of the general differences between the two cards. If you're using CashCourse as your primary tool for financial literacy, maybe throw in that video as well for some context and variety.

- Risk and reward is covered minimally, but I think it's a good concept to work into any discussion about saving and investing. Side note: in the two years (2012 and 2015) that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has measured financial literacy, which includes the concept of risk, 15 year olds in the U.S. have been stunningly...average. More worrisome, the results showed that about 22% of our teens don't reach a baseline level of proficiency. (Here are the 2015 rankings by country, if you're interested.)

- Consequences of not paying your bills and five things to know if a debt collector calls are both topics that I haven't seen elsewhere but are covered (briefly) here.

- I just love the way the tricky concept of credit score is presented. "Think of your credit score as a kind of financial GPA: Your goal is to keep improving it, and then maintain it when it’s the highest you can achieve."

- Generally speaking, I like the wide variety of topics covered here, from the costs of owning a pet to what to think about if the plan is to study abroad.

Things I'm not crazy about
- Some of the advice doesn't match up with my own experience, or with what I tell my teen. For instance, when it comes to negotiating salary increases, CashCourse suggests "instead of waiting for your company’s routine review period, ask for a bump up in your salary right after you have accomplished something valuable for the company." Hmmm. I think it's great to ask for an increase if you feel it's merited. But there's no sentence after this one that explains the realities, particularly in large companies, of salary bands, scheduled performance reviews and other compensation quirks of corporate America. In other words, my advice would be to go ahead and ask, but understand if the answer is "no" that isn't necessarily a reason to head for the nearest exit in a huff.

- Information specific to investments is short and sweet. But if that's an area your teen is particularly interested in there are a lot of other resources available. CashCourse lists a few and you can find more in the Capital Markets section of one of my earlier posts.

- There are several sections that seem more like collections of (very) loosely related articles versus a cohesive plan. You'll find advice about adding staples to your order to save shipping under the Fraud section. Huh?  The section about auto insurance actually only has content on health coverage. Whoops. Still, I like that there is a lot of basic starter-type of information about insurance (health, life, renters, etc.) there for young adults to work through.

Bottom line
Since this site is geared toward older teens and college students, the topic-oriented approach they take (versus a linear, curriculum type of structure) is probably right on target. It's more like the menu approach I used in an earlier post. So while I think it could potentially be a little overwhelming for a 14 year old, a student heading off to college in the fall might find it to be just what they need.

Final note: if you liked CashCourse you might also like another NEFE resource, 40 Money Management Tips Every College Student Should Know.

Start here: The #FinLit Menu for Parents

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