Sonia Anderson spent more than two decades working in the credit card counseling and debt management industry. Along the way, she noticed a trend among young borrowers: Credit default happens for many in their late teens or early 20s because of poor budgeting skills. That leads to a vicious cycle of debt that follows them throughout their lives.
When the Southern Nevada resident retired, she became active in credit and budget management education, realizing one way to limit the cycle of poverty was through teaching children responsible credit practices at a young age. If teens know the basics of managing their money before they are issued credit, they are less likely to misuse it.
Anderson, who grew up in Guyana, a small nation on the northern mainland of South America, said nobody in her family before her received a formal education, but "with just a little bit of help and encouragement and guidance, I was able to succeed."
“I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to give back,” she said.
So, in 2009, Anderson and her son Anthony started the nonprofit Andson. The group’s financial literacy program and its on-campus banking program, Piggy Bank Program, educate local elementary school students about being financially savvy while helping to save for their goals.
The program, which teaches everything from filling out a deposit slip to financial discipline, has been introduced at C.H. Decker, Laura Dearing, Walter Bracken, Hollingsworth and Walter Long elementary schools.
A child begins saving money in the program. Funds are deposited into the Silver State School Credit Union, where students and their families can keep track of their saving and financial goals. Students save toward a specific goal, such as college or their first car.
“The idea was to bring banking to the at-risk students that we served, because they come primarily from unbanked families,” Anderson said. “We’re not just teaching the kids life skills and financial skills, we’re teaching the whole family.”
Students have the option of converting their program savings account to a regular account or withdrawing their savings when they leave the school following the fifth grade. Last year, students in the three original schools that brought Andson’s financial literacy into their classrooms saved a combined $235,000, Anderson said.
Walter Long was the first to launch the program. Most of the students started saving in kindergarten or first grade and are now entering their last year of the program. Fourth-grader Jacob Swift, 10, has saved about $200.
“I’m saving for college, but I play sports, so I’m going to get really good to see if they pay for my schooling, and then if they do pay for my school, then I’ll help my mom out with some bills,” Jacob said.
The program has expanded from the Las Vegas area to Arizona, Arkansas and Texas.
“These are kids that are going to grow up who otherwise would have fallen into the same generational cycle as their parents, but they have an opportunity to be different,” Anderson said. “It’s expanding because there is no other program like this in the country. Our goal is to educate every child everywhere, but our foundation is Southern Nevada.”