Money, for free, at Money Smart Week

You won’t walk away with cash, but you will gather knowledge

The average college freshman receives eight credit card offers in his or her first week of college; 55 percent acquire a credit card within the first year.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, to learn that 45 percent of college students have credit card debt, with an average balance of $3,066. Nor should it be a shock to learn that 7 percent of college students today graduate owing $10,000 or more of credit card debt, or that 85,000 college graduates of 2004 college graduates already have filed for bankruptcy.

How do we help the future college graduates we love best—our own children—avoid becoming one of those distressing statistics? The key is financial education and one way to start is by taking advantage of the programs to be offered May 1-6 during Money Smart Week.

Now in its fifth year, Money Smart Week is the brainchild of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and more than 40 Chicago area financial service and education organizations. It is designed to help consumers—and their kids—learn to manage their money wisely.

Among the best offerings of the week:

 Get Real: Financial Decisions in the Real World. This free workshop helps teens ages 13 and up and their parents learn the basics of personal finance as well as working with student loans. Various times and locations. Check Web site for information.

 The Wealth Warriors on Youth & Investing. This lets kids learn from kids. The Wealth Warriors, an elite group of aggressive investors in the Ujamaa Junior Investment Club (members are boys and girls ages 12-18) will discuss the importance of saving and investing at a young age. This event is open to the public. Noon, May 4, James Ward School Auditorium, 2701 S. Shields Ave., Chicago, (312) 567-1011.

 Tour the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 9-10 a.m., May 1-5. Learn about the history, artifacts and traditions of the futures business at the Mercantile Exchange by touring the new state-of-the-art visitors’ center at 20 S. Wacker Dr., Chicago.

When are kids ready to learn about money? According to Michael Moskow, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago: "With my three children, I stressed the importance of saving, opening bank accounts and managing their money wisely. Now that I have five grandchildren, I look forward to teaching them the same lessons. Ideally, good personal finance habits begin when you’re young but they can be learned at any age."

For details on the week’s activities, visit

Susan Beacham, Healthy Finances columnist

Kids Eat Chicago

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