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Reaching millennials: Push is on to promote financial literacy

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 28. 2017 9:53PM
An animated squirrel with a British accent offers financial advice in a video developed by Bellwether Community Credit Union to educate millennials. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER - An animated squirrel donning a green visor and British accent gives financial advice to a woman snacking under a tree.

The woman shows her lack of financial knowledge when she guesses that a good credit score is either 12, 100, or four out of five before "Credit Squirrel" gives her a tutorial.

"A credit score is a three-digit number that's calculated by credit bureaus and give banks, credit unions and landlords an idea of how likely you are to pay your loan or rent on time," the squirrel says. "Most scores are between 350 and 800. Anything above 720 is considered prime."

Bellwether Community Credit Union on Friday launched a series of video, handouts and infographics aimed at young adults 18 to 30. The free online education program is available to members and nonmembers at bccu.org/adulting.

"The idea behind this is to be fun and clever," said Mike L'Ecuyer, president and CEO of Bellwether, which has three locations and about 34,000 members. "I think people in general, and especially young people, are not as prepared as I know their financial institutions would like,"

While many millennials want to know about handling their finances, "these kids are, in some cases, defenseless in the world of capitalism," he said.

Bellwether spent about $31,000 in the past six months on millennial-oriented efforts.

Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrated basic financial knowledge, according to a study by the George Washington Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center in Washington.

More than half were concerned about their ability to repay their student debt, and nearly 30 percent were overdrawing their checking accounts, according to the study.

Citizens Bank, the state's largest bank, also is trying to help millennials, building a website for student loan awareness, studentloanawareness.com.

"It's interactive; it includes video," said Joe Carelli, president of Citizens Bank for New Hampshire and Vermont.

Citizens, which operates 72 branches in New Hampshire, offers a program to consolidate student loans into one loan carrying a lower interest rate and monthly payments, he said.

(New Hampshire had the highest average college student debt for the Class of 2015, $36,101.)

A Citizens Bank survey showed 80 percent of millennials worried about their ability to pay back their student loans.

Student loans, jobs and house purchases are three issues on the minds of many millennials.

"My generation is notorious for hopping jobs," said Chris Steele, a millennial who lives and works in Manchester.

Steele, an economist with ITR Economics, offered advice on businesses retaining millennials in a tight job market.

"Make my standard of life better while I'm working for you," Steele told a chamber of commerce luncheon in Bedford last week. "You don't want to just throw money at us, especially because if you all do it, I know I can get the same treatment from another employer."

Money isn't solely the answer.

"Millennials are very well motivated and more so than previous generations by nonmonetary compensation. Again. I'm talking things like flexible hours, maybe let me take this tie off when I come in to work, maybe let me wear sneakers if that's acceptable," he said. "Find ways to increase the compensation without actually writing a check. Better vacation hours. More flexible vacation hours. Really, this is time to get creative to mitigate costs and up that retention rate."

Paul McLaughlin, homeownership manager at NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire in Manchester, sees plenty of millennials attending workshops on financing and homeownership facing a different world than their parents.

"This day and age, nobody uses a checkbook anymore," he said. "Now, they're tracking everything real time online."

Millennials often are facing higher student debt totals than their parents did.

McLaughlin said he thinks the Great Recession was "an eye opener for a lot of people" and may influence the millennials.

But he saw some parents who faced foreclosure on homes but were buying expensive sneakers for their teenage children.

"Sometimes, I have to blame the parents," he said. "As bad as things got for them, they made sure their kids have everything."

NeighborWorks offers classes on financial literacy and homebuying with a majority aged 25 to 35. More information is available at hometeamnh.org.

Informing people about basic finances will help them throughout life.

"A lot of people just don't know how credit works, how credit scores work, how important it is to have credit," McLaughlin said. "Telling people you have to have credit to build credit. There's still some millennials that want to live off the grid. They saw their parents get in trouble with foreclosure and credit companies and don't want to deal with it."


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