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Ready for the real world

TruMark has opened a student-run credit union branch in Bensalem High School to help teens become financially independent

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Young professionals: TruMark’s credit union branch at Bensalem High School is entirely student-run. The teens received 40 hours of specialized training and work two days a week during their lunch periods. Photo: Susan Phy

Earning good grades in high school is important. Students need them to pass classes, graduate and get accepted into a decent college. But while they’re stressing over SATs and AP exams, something vital is falling to the wayside — life skills. Teens can solve the lengthiest calculus equations in minutes, but a bank statement is met with bewilderment. That’s why TruMark has teamed with Bensalem High School to prepare students for the real world, creating a student-run credit union branch right inside the school.

The branch officially opened on Friday, Nov. 17, during a special ribbon-cutting ceremony. TruMark representatives, students and faculty were present to unveil this rare opportunity for high schoolers. According to Randi Marmer, TruMark’s assistant vice president of public relations, helping young people become financially aware is one of the company’s main initiatives.

TruMark’s first student-run branch opened in 2007 at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. Since then, it has established locations at William Tennent High School and several colleges, including Bucks County Community College and La Salle University.

Located within the walls of Bensalem High School, the student branch encourages young people to begin financial relationships and become educated on the value of saving money. The branch allows them to complete virtually any transaction that takes place at a regular location. Students can deposit money, cash a check, make a withdrawal and set up direct deposit.

“The goal is to provide students with the opportunity to start learning how to save money,” Marmer said. “These are life skills. Everybody can benefit from this.”

Marmer reflected on one student from Plymouth-Whitemarsh who took advantage of his in-school branch. The teen was earning a small income from a part-time job, but always gave his check to his mother to deposit. The student branch educated him on how to manage his own money, ultimately making him more financially independent.

According to Tara Carroll, a business teacher at Bensalem High School, the student branch allows the classroom and real world to intertwine. After learning about deposits and transfers in Carroll’s personal finance class, her students can walk down the hall and actively practice these skills.

In addition to making teens more financially aware, the branch allows them to start building a resume since it’s entirely run by student workers. Interviews took place at the end of last year, with a handful selected this September to work two days a week during lunch. The students received 40 hours of in-depth training, much like a full-time employee of TruMark, which included customer service and how to efficiently count money.

“They get hands-on experience most 15 and 16 year olds don’t get until after graduation,” Marmer said.

Since the branch opened last month, more than 20 new accounts have been created by students and faculty. This is a testament to the ongoing partnership between the school and TruMark, a relationship that has continued to grow for almost a decade. Throughout the year, the company will often host financial literacy presentations at Bensalem High School during which representatives discuss everything from loans to job interview techniques.

The purpose of these, as well as the credit union branch, is to help students make informed decisions later in life, especially as they begin to take out loans for college. TruMark helps them understand what a credit score is, the difference between credit and debit and the repercussions of swiping a credit card too many times.

To give students a better taste of the real world, TruMark hosted a reality fair on Nov. 8 at William Tennent High School. Each student received a budget worksheet and was given a career and salary. They then took their net pay and visited a variety of booths to purchase necessary items for adulthood — an apartment, insurance plan, groceries, a phone and data plan, etc. There was also a wheel of reality, which represented the unexpected financial curveballs life can throw. While one student had to plunk out $500 to repair a broken car, another received a surprise $300 from a grandparent. Once finished, each met with a financial advisor to determine if they were successfully living within their financial means.

In the spring, TruMark will host financial jeopardy, with topics including budgets, investing, retirement and identity theft. The winner will be awarded $5,000 and all students who participate will receive a TruMark savings account along with $200 to help get them started.

TruMark Financial is headquartered in Fort Washington and has 22 branches. To learn more, visit www.trumarkonline.org. The student-run credit union branch is open for Bensalem High School students and faculty Tuesdays and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m by the cafeteria.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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