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8 games that clarify credit for kids

Beat Debt, Celebrity Calamity and more all aim to teach fiscal responsibility

By Heather Larson

Kids learn best from experience, which is always more effective than a lecture, especially when it comes to the dreary topic of managing money and credit. What better way to share good financial common sense with your children than by making it a game? 8 games that clarify credit for kids

That's exactly what the creators of Beat Debt, Charge Large, Celebrity Calamity, Thrive Time and other financial games had in mind. Playing games such as these with your child is not only engaging, but it opens up opportunities for discussion about money and credit cards .

"Kids only see the spending side of credit cards, which makes them look like easy money," says Thrive Time board game creator and personal finance co-author Sharon Lechter.

Thrive Time teaches teens how to thrive or dive in the financial world. Players begin with part-time jobs earning $500 a month, then they are faced with money and life decisions such as buying cars, managing expenses, giving back to their community, paying for college, using credit cards and starting businesses. The winners are players who generate income, make positive financial decisions, effectively manage their time and do good for those around them.

With only three states (Utah, Missouri and Tennessee) requiring a high school class in financial responsibility, the burden of teaching how credit works falls on the parents, says Lechter. If your teens won't listen or you don't know as much as you'd like about credit details, one fun option is to shift some of the responsibility to online or board games that teach about credit cards -- how they work, how you can get into trouble with them and how to use them responsibly.

What kids know about credit
"Teens don't know what APR (annual percentage rate) means, how credit card fees are assessed or how irresponsible use of credit cards can limit future choices," says Mechel Glass, director of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) in Atlanta and creator of Beat Debt, a board game, and Paid Off!, a card game.

Young adults also have the unrealistic expectation that they can live for the moment and not prepare for their financial future, according to a 2008 study of college students undertaken by the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys. In that study, 31 percent of the students polled said they don't worry about debt and believe they can pay it all off when they are out of school and earning a regular paycheck, while an average of 23 percent said they ignored the prospect of months or years of paying off a debt for a moment of fun.

Brett Barnes, who works with the nonprofit organization Lifeworks in Austin, Texas, takes the game Celebrity Calamity to the foster youth in his community. "Celebrity Calamity gives our youth the opportunity to be exposed to a longer-term financial outlook as so many of our foster care youth are sheltered from credit card knowledge and money management techniques," he says.

In Celebrity Calamity, players take over the finances for a demanding star who lives beyond his or her means. They then have to decide how to much to pay each month on the credit card accounts without making the celebrity angry. If the star gets too angry, you're fired.

"I learned that you can't put everything on a credit card, it's not free money and you need to be cautious," says Elias Ferrer, an 11-year-old boy in Federal Way, Wash., after playing Celebrity Calamity.

Benefits of playing games
"Understanding wants versus needs isn't a very attractive subject, but kids identify with games and find them fun," says Glass. "Everyone wants to win, and it gets energy going in the room."

I learned that you can't put everything on a credit card, it's not free money and you need to be cautious.

-- Elias Ferrer, 11    
after playing Celebrity Calamity    

In Beat Debt, one of the games Glass created, players use their disposable income to invest or pay off credit card debt. The first person to have a zero credit card account balance and an investment balance of $5,000 wins.

"Beat Debt brings out financial personalities," says Lisa Ray, an educator for CCCS who regularly uses the game with clients. "Players see other individuals at the table who don't think the same way they do and start wondering if it's time to change their own way of thinking."

Games also get kids thinking about the choices they make and the consequences of those decisions, lessons that Glass says easily translate to real life.

"Thrive Time teaches that financial decisions can affect you both in the short term and the long term," says Kim Kleeman, who plays the game with her 12-year-old daughter. "In our instant gratification society, we don't always consider long-term consequences."

Playing games can sometimes take the stress off the situation of parents lecturing about money, Glass says.

"I hate being lectured," says 14-year-old Brittany Kovacs, who lives in Phoenix and beta-tested Thrive Time. "Thrive Time made it fun to learn about credit cards and interest rates. I now know credit cards should only be used when you need something, not because you want it."

Lechter says any game that teaches financial literacy principles around credit is the gift of a lifetime.

Here are some games you might want to introduce to your children:

CHART: 8 financial games that teach credit
Game name
Game type
Ages Objective
Cost
Thrive Time for Teens Board game 13+ Players are faced with decisions such as buying cars, managing expenses, charitable giving, using credit and paying for college. $29.95
Beat Debt Board game 10+ Use your disposable income for investing or paying off credit card debt. The first person to pay off debt and have an investment balance of $5,000 wins. $39.99
Paid Off! Card game 10+ Teaches strategies to avoid credit card debt. Pay off credit cards while keeping opponents from doing so. $24.99
Charge Large Board game 12+ Purchase buildings and businesses with a combination of cash and credit and watch your credit-card limits increase. To win, you need to have zero debt. $24.99
CreditSafe Online game 13+ Choose three credit cards and use them to pay for items you need for the project you select. You are scored on how well you use the cards, pay off the balances and manage your money. Free
Celebrity Calamity Online game Young adults Players become financial managers for stars who spend beyond their means. Teaches value of minimizing credit card finance charges, avoiding late fees and making good APR choices. Free
Stage Coach Island Online, virtual game 14+ Learn how to maintain good credit using credit cards, use your money wisely and chat with real people via online messages. Free
Bad Credit Hotel Online game Young adults Shows how to control credit through an interactive game. Free

See related: Law may force parents, children to talk about credit cards, Encourage children to learn good savings habits, New credit education campaign features interactive game

Published: March 30, 2010


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