In a Nutshell: More than 3.6 million students will graduate from US high schools in 2018. Most will leave school without the type of financial education they need to give them a head start into adulthood. The situation is alarming as studies have shown that a lack of financial literacy affects Americans throughout their lives. To help improve this lack of fiscal know-how among teens and young adults, Redwood Credit Union has partnered with educational technology leader EverFi to provide a free financial wellness center for members and other residents of California’s North Bay region. The curriculum includes online courses like creating budgets, setting realistic goals, and eliminating debt — skills that lay the foundation for personal success.
My fourth-grade teacher started me on my road to financial literacy. While other 10-year-old students were learning multiplication and subtraction using worksheets and scratch paper, she gave us checkbooks.
One morning she entered the classroom with a big box and removed two dozen unused checkbooks and gave one to each student. At that age, I’d seen my parents use their checkbook but had no idea what the lines and boxes all meant. She patiently explained each section and had us write our first sample check — $1 million paid directly to her.
While we turned in our homework or did other tasks around the classroom, she deposited money into our fictional checking account. The money could be saved or used to make purchases — things like permission to sit in the teacher’s chair or next to a friend for a day — from her classroom store. To buy these items, though, we had to properly write a check and successfully balance our checking account after the purchase.
While my fourth-grade classroom didn’t have the same reach as Redwood Credit Union, both had the similar goal of instilling the type of financial knowledge that lasts a lifetime. But Redwood Credit Union’s mission to teach personal money management skills affects a broader demographic. Nearly 300,000 California residents of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Marin, and four other adjacent counties are members at RCU, making it one of the largest financial institutions in the state, and one that certainly has issued more than two dozen checkbooks.
Since 1950, the credit union has served its members with competitive interest rates for savings, checking, and loan products, including Visa credit card options for members with a wide range of credit scores. Where the company does its most good, though, is with its community outreach and financial literacy programs.
“Our mission is to serve the best interests of our members, employees, and communities,” said Matt Martin, VP of Community and Government Relations at Redwood. “Teaching people how to be smart with their money is definitely in their best interests.”
Redwood supports those interests with a free online financial wellness center — developed with help from technology partner, EverFi — that is available to anyone, regardless of membership status. Courses — called “modules” — are short and easier than you’d think to fit into tight schedules. Each covers real-world topics with up-to-date information.
“We’re committed to helping our members and communities navigate the path to financial freedom,” said Brett Martinez, RCU’s president and CEO in a press release to announce the unveiling of the wellness center in January of 2017. “By providing them with the right tools and education, we can empower and enable people to succeed financially at every stage of life.”
EverFi Video Content Teaches Members in All Stages of Life
Financial literacy is one of the most important topics that anyone can learn — and it’s one only lightly covered before students leave high school.
Learning about money management would have been the high school course with the most benefit to recent graduates, according to a survey of young adults. The study revealed that the astounding lack of financial education among young adults in America is something that will hinder them for their entire lives.
Some states have attempted to make up ground. Students who participated in mandated high school courses on financial education in Texas, Georgia, and Idaho were shown to have higher credit scores than their peers in states that did not require the curriculum.
Redwood’s longstanding commitment to its members and community — regardless of age or financial status — helps to create similar changes in the financial outlook of consumers. The company partners with educational technology leader EverFi to offer free online education video courses to anyone interested.
“EverFi content meets people where they are, providing quick, yet comprehensive, knowledge while engaging them in the learning process without being overwhelming,” Matt said.
Podcasts and courses are also geared toward young consumers just starting their financial journey. The Teens and Money course focuses on buying a vehicle, managing money, creating a checking and savings account, responsible credit card usage, and investing.
Since its introduction in early 2017, RCU’s EverFi suite of online courses has received nearly 100,000 views, with the most popular topics focusing on budgeting, taxes, and account overdrafts.
Other topics covered in depth through the suite help consumers budget their spending, create realistic goals, and decrease their debt.
A partnership with BALANCE Financial Fitness allows RCU members to enroll in the BALANCE credit counseling program with Redwood paying all of the fees associated with the course.
“In addition to the EverFi modules, RCU’s online Financial Wellness Center also features podcasts, worksheets, and other content from our partners at BALANCE, as well as other financial tips and articles created or curated by RCU,” Matt said.
More than $25 million in Donations Raised for Fire Victims
Redwood’s community involvement stretches beyond its branch locations and into the classrooms and neighborhoods of the North Bay and San Francisco areas. The company raises funds and awareness for community causes through its employee volunteerism, sponsorship and fundraising.
In 2017, the Redwood Credit Union Community Fund, in conjunction with local businesses and charities, raised more than $25 million in less than eight weeks for the victims of the fires in North Bay, including the wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties. The fires claimed 42 lives and were among the most destructive and deadliest in the state’s history.
Nearly $20 million has already been distributed to assist fire survivors with urgent needs. That includes grants to people who lost homes or who are experiencing economic hardship as a result of the fires.
“The grants also support the first responders who lost homes while fighting the fires and protecting our communities, businesses who were impacted, and local nonprofits directly serving those affected by the fires,” Matt said.
In 2016, credit union employees logged more than 4,100 volunteer hours and the financial institution supported over 200 nonprofits with more than $2.8 million in donations. The institution also offers the use of its spacious Sonoma Community Room in Santa Rosa to nonprofit and community organizations for meetings and other events free of charge.
“Supporting our local communities is simply part of who we are as an organization,” Matt said. “We hire very passionate, engaged people, who are truly committed to helping others—both by serving our members and by helping out in the community.”
An Institution that Cares About California’s Financial Future
It’s never too late — or too early — to improve your financial literacy.
Redwood Credit Union’s suite of free educational video courses is available on its website for anyone, regardless of membership. Areas of study include real-life topics like creating a budget, setting goals, and eliminating debt on the path to financial wellness. Teen courses that help lay a foundation for future success are also available.
The credit union raises and donates millions of dollars each year to community organizations that improve life for residents in the North Bay area of California. RCU’s work touches thousands of lives each year and continues to affect citizens each day with works like its donation drive for victims of the North Bay and wine country fires.
While it’s been nearly three decades since I wrote my last fourth-grade check, the lessons learned in that worn, blue, faux-leather booklet have lasted much longer than the stuffed animals I paid to bring to class with me. The same can be said for the lessons taught by Redwood Credit Union and EverFi that have helped thousands of consumers improve their financial fitness for years to come.