It’s tough being a sixth-grader with a crummy credit score.

It’s going to make buying a car and finding an apartment more difficult. Maybe they shouldn’t have maxed out their credit cards on fidget spinners, candy and cellphone apps.

Fortunately, their lousy credit scores were valid only Thursday, when Junior Achievement volunteers were teaching Economics for Success at Franklin Middle School.

Junior Achievement is a national organization that works with local businesses and schools to increase financial literacy, workplace readiness and entrepreneurship, according to Junior Achievement’s website.

On Thursday, students learned:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of credit and debit cards.
  • How to manage a budget based on a set salary.
  • How a credit score is developed.
  • The consequences of a positive or negative credit report.
  • How the choices they make now will influence their futures.

Wade Hanson, a Junior Achievement volunteer and CPA at Summit Accounting Group, was in charge of explaining to 11- and 12-year-olds how credit scores work.

Most kids are exposed to the idea of credit scores only in television ads featuring adults who seem to be either ignorant or afraid of their credit scores.

Scores can change based on a variety of factors, including the amount of debt a person carries, how fast they are paying off debt, their ratio of credit available and credit used, if they’ve recently opened a credit account, and if they’re paying their bills on time, Hanson explained.

Then, in small groups, students played a game where they picked cards that influenced their scores.

The cards included classics such as “you always max out your credit card,” “You didn’t pay your electric bill on time” and the less likely, “Your credit card is always paid on time.”

One poor kid ended up with a score in the negative, just based on the cards she drew.

Kids seemed to grasp the basics.

“To have a good credit score, you have to use your budget wisely,” said Karma Phillips. “You have to pay your bills.”

Angelina Martinez went straight to the heart of the issue: “Don’t spend your money like crazy.”

Another session gave kids a profession with a monthly salary. A budget planner helped guide them through suggested spending: 10 percent into savings, 25 percent for housing, 15 percent for food.

Hanson said Junior Achievement wants to start financial education early. Youngsters might not completely understand the concept, but they do understand that how they spend and save impacts larger issues such as housing, borrowing for a car and even getting a job.

In the 2016-17 school year, Junior Achievement volunteers gave hundreds of presentations in classrooms in Janesville, Beloit, Elkhorn and East Troy. Those presentations, along with other outreach efforts, helped them reach 3,622 students.

“Whatever their incomes are (in the future), we want students to be good managers of their money,” said Roxanne Van Loon, director of Junior Achievement.

It’s something the state of Wisconsin wants, too.

Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill directing each school board to adopt academic standards for financial literacy and incorporate instruction into the curriculum at all grades.

The Janesville School Board has already adopted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s model academic standards, which include financial literacy, said Patrick Gasper, communications specialist for the Janesville School District.

In addition, a financial literacy course is required at all high schools, including the charter schools, Gasper said.

The course, called “financial literacy,” is taken during the junior year, he said.

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