Volunteering For Financial Literacy

From Texas to Ohio, Virginia to Montana, CPAs take the message to the streets of their hometowns.
BY ADAM SNYDER

In hundreds of communities across the country, CPAs are using the resources of the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program ( www.aicpa.org/financialliteracy ) as the foundation for building public service programs of their own. “The 360 Degrees program offers an umbrella to leverage the collective efforts of CPAs,” says Jimmy Williamson, CPA, chair of the AICPA’s Grassroots Mobilization Team working to get CPAs involved. “Whether it’s the Oklahoma Society’s Women’s Financial Health program, Ohio’s Accounting for Kids Day or Virginia’s Financial Fitness Week, our aim is to support local, grassroots efforts by CPAs to improve financial literacy.”

Helping People Reach Their Goals
In New York, for example, Todd Ringler, CPA, has created a one-day curriculum that he is introducing to his local school district. “Our focus is to bring real-life solutions to high school seniors,” he says. “They’ve been taught about economics conceptually, but the 360 Degrees material allows me to bring the real world to the classroom by having them ask themselves, ‘How am I going to support myself?’ ‘How do I get my first credit card?’ and ‘What’s it going to take to buy a car or a home?’ These are questions that really give meaning to the study of economics.”

As part of a partnership between the East Islip School District and Dowling College, Ringler and others in the community also are working with the high school honors society to train seniors to bring the message of financial literacy to younger students. “We’re asking them to communicate their own excitement,” he says.

Ringler has made communicating financial literacy an important part of his practice, trying to convey the lessons he’s learned to his clients. “People need to have a plan about how they are going to reach their goals,” he says, “whether it’s buying a house, starting a business, having children or retiring.”

Last October, the AICPA launched its 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy consumer Web site ( www.360financialliteracy.org ) that allows visitors to immediately pinpoint the specific financial information they need. It is organized by life stages that trigger financial issues, such as childhood, college, career, marriage, parenthood, home ownership, life crises and retirement. The Web site is the cornerstone of a coordinated program sponsored by the AICPA and state societies in which thousands of CPAs across the country are volunteering their time and expertise to educate members of their community about financial issues. Each life stage contains articles, easy-to-use financial planning and assessment tools, worksheets and calculators, and frequently asked questions. The site also allows visitors to access topics of general financial interest such as strategies for saving and investing, financing a car, managing credit and getting out of debt.

Accounting for Kids Day in Cincinnati
Crystal Faulkner, CPA, got the idea of teaching financial literacy to inner-city kids a few years ago, shortly after she and two other CPAs began Cooney Faulkner & Stevens in Cincinnati, where a number of their start-up technology clients were located. “We were looking for a way a small firm could give back to the community,” she says. “So we adopted an inner-city classroom and began to teach math.”

With the support of the weekly Cincinnati Business Courier, Faulkner created a not-for-profit corporation, Accounting for Kids, as a mentoring and tutoring program through which CPAs could teach school children financial skills. In November, as part of the third annual Accounting for Kids Day, CPAs across Ohio used a kid-friendly stock market game and other resources to introduce the concepts of financial literacy to more than 7,000 elementary school students in 200 classrooms, many in inner-city neighborhoods. “After playing the stock market game and having CPAs talk about the issues involved, kids are suddenly talking about owning their own businesses,” Faulkner says. “It opens their eyes because they have no one in their world who talks like this. We’re also showing teachers how to incorporate these lessons into the math curriculum. The idea is to teach kids how money can work for them rather than them working for money.”

“The enthusiasm these students express reminds us how important it is for CPAs to share their time and professional knowledge with young people,” adds Clarke Price, CPA, president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs. “These basic financial concepts will stay with students for a lifetime.”

Helping Our Soldiers
It’s not just kids who need help in becoming more financially literate, of course. The Fort Worth chapter of the Texas Society of CPAs, which includes a number of military bases, offers its services to military personnel in need of financial guidance. Curtis Beethe,

CPA, a sole practitioner in Fort Worth, says many reservists face very specific financial issues that can have unique solutions. Last December, for example, he and another local CPA met with a family in which the husband suddenly was called back from Iraq when his wife contracted meningitis.

With three months before her long-term disability insurance kicked in, Beethe says, “they were facing a bleak Christmas. We focused on getting them through it without having their financial situation go totally off the rails, using section 125 of the IRS code to provide flexible reimbursement for medical expenses. It was a wonderful experience.”

CPAs in Montana also are taking financial literacy efforts to where they are desperately needed, to families of deployed troops. “In our state it’s mostly National Guard and Reserves—not full-time soldiers, but our neighbors,” says Margaret Herriges, CPA, of the Montana Society of CPAs.

After checking with the National Guard’s Family Assistance Center, the Montana society launched Operation CPA, a three-pronged program to help military families manage their finances and fill out their tax forms. Town-hall-style meetings, informational packets and a Web page dedicated to financial issues for military families have been favorably received by the families and their deployed loved ones.

Ten Easy Ways to Join 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Initiative
1. Contact your state CPA society.

2. Register on the volunteer database: https://volunteers.aicpa.org/financialliteracy .

3. Visit the CPA Resource Center to access CPA mobilization kits: www.aicpa.org/financialliteracy/index.asp .

4. Use the kits to offer a workshop at your church, community center, library or school.

5. Take the free financial literacy CPE course: www.aicpa.org/financialliteracy/CPEcourse.asp .

6. Be the host for a brown-bag seminar at your office.

7. Offer a free educational event for clients or community members at your firm.

8. Link to the consumer financial literacy Web site: www.360financialliteracy.org .

9. Send your friends, family and neighbors to the Web site, too.

10. Tell us about your financial literacy activities: financialliteracy@aicpa.org .

Financial Fitness Week
At the behest of the Virginia State Society of CPAs, the governor declared the third week of October “Financial Fitness Week.” That Saturday, CPA volunteers stationed outside 10 Kroger supermarkets in the Richmond metropolitan area distributed financial literacy information and answered people’s questions. The two most successful handouts were a short quiz testing financial fitness and a calendar, cosponsored by the AICPA, with financial tips on every page.

“The calendar was a big hit,” says Chairman John Vincie, CPA. “In addition to its emphasis on financial literacy, it also introduced the idea that CPAs are doing things most people don’t associate with us, like volunteerism and financial planning.”

The Virginia society plans to roll out the program statewide next year. It’s working with the governor’s office and the state department of education to make financial literacy a requirement for high school graduation.

“We’re partnering with a lot of organizations, but we feel that as CPAs we are in the best position to coordinate everyone’s efforts,” Vincie says. “Financial fitness—just like physical fitness—is an important part of growing up. And that idea has begun to take on a lot of steam.”

For more information about the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program, go to www.aicpa.org/financialliteracy , e-mail financialliteracy@aicpa.org or visit the consumer site at www.360financialliteracy.org . For the Accounting for Kids program in Cincinnati, go to www.accountingforkids.com ; for the 360 Degrees program in Texas, visit www.valueyourmoney.org ; for Montana’s Operation CPA go to www.mscpa.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=565 ; and for Virginia’s financial fitness program, including the financial calendar, go to www.vscpa.com .

—Adam Snyder

ADAM SNYDER is a freelance business writer.

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