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H&R Block Budget Challenge Awards Grand Prize Winner $120,000 in Scholarships

Sean Lawrence, a St. Clair, Michigan, high school senior, has won $120,000 in college scholarships as grand-prize winner of the H&R Block Budget Challenge — a teen financial literacy program that simulates an adult’s financial life and rewards students for mastering real-world financial decision-making.

Lawrence earned the $100,000 scholarship for having the most “real world ready” financial skills out of more than 93,000 high school students in 5,621 classrooms nationwide after participating in Budget Challenge this school year. He received an additional $20,000 scholarship for placing in the top-22 of his simulation, earning a total of $120,000 to apply toward his education.



Winner Sean with H&R Block president and CEO Bill Cobb


Future chemical engineer

Lawrence plans to study chemical engineering at Macomb Community College, Charter Township of Clinton, Michigan, for two years and then transfer to Western Michigan University. His future goals include working hard at a well-paying job, while investing in retirement and saving for a house and a car.

Reflecting on the knowledge that he and other teens have gained through the Budget Challenge, Lawrence said, “Learning about money management before going into the real world allows teens to make the right choices, or have the correct knowledge so they don’t end up with mountains of debt.”



Our winner in his St. Clair, Michigan school library


Learning by doing approach

The H&R Block Budget Challenge uses a learn-by-doing educational approach that allows students to experience personal finance activities in the safety of a classroom, before heading out into the real world on their own. Participants play against other students and classrooms, competing for more than $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes.

“Our goal with the H&R Block Budget Challenge is to arm teens with the personal finance skills and confidence they need to succeed when they’re out on their own,” said Bill Cobb, H&R Block president and chief executive officer. “This program is an investment in all of our futures, and we couldn’t be more proud of the students who participated and excelled in this real world challenge.”



Winner Sean, shortly after the announcement


For more information on the H&R Block Budget Challenge and to see a full list of winners, please visit

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Which Generation is the Most Money-Smart? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Think you know more about finance than your parents did? We’ve got statistics on the financial health of four generations. See where you fall:


For an interactive version of this infographic, click here.


The H&R Block Budget Challenge: What Students are Saying

We recently asked high school students across the nation to tell us what they thought of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, our online teen financial literacy teaching tool that simulates real world decision making.

The H&R Budget Challenge simulates an adult’s financial life – paying bills, investing in retirement, managing loans and more. Students play classroom against classroom and student against student, competing for $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes. As part of its commitment to financial literacy, H&R Block offers the game free to teachers and home school educators as a tool to help teens gain personal finance skills.

Here’s what students from some of the winning classrooms had to say about the program.

Staying proactive is one skill that I will be using after the Budget Challenge. Every day, I check my account balance, my pending checks, and the status of my outstanding debts. Instead of being surprised when I get a bill, I am prepared to pay it. In the future, this responsibility will help me maintain organization and my credit score.”

— William Jones, Blue Valley Southwest High School, Overland Park, Kan.

“To me, being smart about money means being conscious of your purchases and making sure that any fixed expenses or expenses you are responsible for are paid off first before money is spent. It’s really about making sure your expenses don’t exceed your income and making sure you’re always aware of financial responsibilities that are headed your way. “

— Alexis Chevalier, San Romon Valley High School, Danville, Calif.

This simulation demonstrated to me how to manage my money in life. Facing various money mistakes gave me the knowledge to avoid forthcoming ones. I was fortunate to participate into this simulation; it made me capable of maintaining my finances on my own.”

— Kemuel Nelson, Miami Edison Senior High School, Miami, Fla.

To learn more about the H&R Block Budget Challenge and how your school can register for future simulations, visit


The H&R Block Budget Challenge: What Teachers are Saying

We recently asked teachers across the nation to tell us what they thought of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, our online teen financial literacy teaching tool that simulates real world decision making.

Free to high school teachers, the H&R Budget Challenge simulates an adult’s financial life – paying bills, investing in retirement, managing loans and more. Students play classroom against classroom and student against student, competing for $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes.

Here’s what teachers from some of the winning classrooms had to say about the program.

“My students have really taken it seriously. They are very competitive and congratulatory to students who have higher scores. They also worry when they know they might not have enough money to pay their bills. It has inspired a lot of conversation between students in the Challenge. They are motivated by the contest without me having to motivate them.”

— Sandra Curry, business teacher, Floyd Central High School, Floyds Knobs, Ind., $7500 in grants and six student scholarships

“I believe that one of the biggest mistakes young adults make in personal finance is not understanding how to budget. Several lessons throughout H&R Block Budget Challenge taught them about savings, insurance, how to read a paycheck, understanding taxes and a 401(k). Not only did the students complete these lessons, but they also experienced them. Anytime a student gets to have a powerful experience such as this simulation, it’s going to have a lasting effect.”

—    Sherry Brown, economics and government teacher, Guntersville High School, Guntersville, Ala., $7500 in grants and 11 student scholarships.

“This is the best program for giving students a chance to practice managing finances, make mistakes and learn from them now. Many of my students know very little about personal finance when they begin the class, and the Budget Challenge has forced them to think about their future and hopefully be more prepared for life after high school.”

—    Kari Larson, math teacher, Lena-Winslow High School, Lena, Ill., $2500 grant

To learn more about the H&R Block Budget Challenge and to register for future simulations, visit

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All I Want For Christmas Is A Bitcoin

By Erin Lowry, contributor

Bitcoin seems as real as monopoly money and sounds as silly as a loonie or a toonie, except it isn’t printed in funny colors and is worth way more than $2. In fact, it isn’t even tangible. Bitcoin is a virtual currency introduced in 2009. While it may sound like a fun stocking stuffer, Santa would need to be feeling awfully generous to leave a Bitcoin.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcon is an unregulated, non-FDIC-insured currency. Although it is not backed by the U.S. or any government or banking system, it has been slowly gaining both in popularity and acceptance. Some merchants, such as restaurants and small businesses, will accept Bitcoin in lieu of paying with cash or a credit card.

At its peak in November 2013, one Bitcoin was worth upwards of $1,200. As of this writing, one Bitcoin is worth nearly $370.

How do you get Bitcoin?

First, you need a wallet. No, not the kind you’re thinking. You need a digital wallet either on mobile, desktop, laptop or the Web.

Next, you need to acquire your Bitcoins. This can happen one of two ways.

Mining: Bitcoin uses the Internet and users’ computers and servers to offer up the computing power needed to perform the algorithms that keep Bitcoin running.

Or in slightly more simple terms: your bank uses massive data servers to perform transactions all day. Bitcoin has you. You provide your computer to the cause and are rewarded in fractions of a Bitcoin.

Anyone can do it: You just need to sign up, download the software and let your computer do the rest. But your little laptop or desktop probably won’t have the power to earn you much as a miner, so Bitcoin pools help bring resources together to earn more.

Buying: Not interested in offering up your computer to earn some Bitcoins? Not a problem. You can buy them outright on an exchange, or accept them as tender for an item you want to sell. Just be careful if you want to buy via an exchange, as there are scammers and fraudsters out there looking to take your money.

Is Bitcoin a good investment?

As a fun, speculative portion of a portfolio, sure, it’s a perfectly fine investment. But remember, Bitcoin is incredibly volatile and susceptible to hacking and scams.

In fact, Mt. Gox, previously one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges in the world, filed bankruptcy earlier this year after losing 850,000 Bitcoins. The company’s official claim was that the Bitcoins were stolen, even though 200,000 have since been recovered.

Bitcoin transactions are also irreversible and can only be returned by the person who received the funds.

Finally, there can be tax consequences to trading in bitcoin. The IRS says that bitcoin and other virtual convertible currency is a capital asset. As such, selling or trading bitcoin for “real” cash or goods can result in taxable gain.

So, if your teen wants to dabble in a unique form of finance, Bitcoin may be a great gift as long as you proceed with caution. But it might also be the only gift under the tree — in the form of a gift certificate, of course.


Erin-Lowry_150hErin Lowry is the founder of, where she uses sarcasm and humor to explain basic financial concepts to her fellow millennials. Erin lives in New York City and works for MagnifyMoney.




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Why Financial Literacy Matters: Infographic

Where are your kids learning about money? Whether it’s budgeting, credit cards or taxes, they are most likely learning about financial topics from their parents. In fact, 75% of high schoolers have said most of their money knowledge comes from their parents. Now the big question. What are you teaching them? We look at how financially-savvy our children are and what could possibly change in our schools to help teach these topics. Leer en Español.

This is a cause that is important to us. The H&R Block Budget Challenge is free and encourages students to learn personal finance in a fun, engaging way while competing against other classrooms and students for $3 million in classroom grants and student scholarships.

Click here for embed code.


Why Personal Finance Should Be Taught In High School

By Brian Page, personal finance adviser

Ninety-three percent of Americans believe all high school students should be required to take a class in financial education. And yes, teens themselves want to learn money management skills. Eighty-six percent of teens indicate they’d rather learn about money management in a class before making mistakes in the real world. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke summarized the need for financial education nicely in the summer of 2012:

“Financial education supports not only individual well-being, but also the economic health of our nation … Consumers who can make informed decisions about financial products and services not only serve their own best interests, but collectively, they also help promote broader economic stability.”

Teachers and parents alike know it’s important to make learning relevant for teens. Fortunately, managing money is not a responsibility exclusive to adults. Managing money is already relevant to most of today’s teens.

  • Many teens have jobs and pay taxes, and need to know how to fill out basic tax forms and file for themselves.
  • They often have money from an allowance or a job and can open savings and checking accounts.
  • Many high school students purchase automobiles and automobile insurance on their own.
  • Teens are considering how to pay for college. Bear in mind that student debt is nearly impossible to discharge and has grown to over $1 trillion nationally, exceeding credit card debt.
  • Teens shop, and some even pay routine bills for items such as cell phones, or they assist with their family’s bills.

Exposing teens to strategies to better themselves financially is a 21st century survival skill. Teens deserve to be introduced to complicated financial concepts by caring teachers charged with preparing them to make wise and informed decisions.

Relying on the school of hard knocks should not be an option anymore. Teachers and parents are in the best position to help teens learn how to manage money, provided they have the knowledge and resources to do so. Our aim is to help by providing the H&R Block Budget Challenge for free. H&R Block Budget Challenge is a money management simulation that uses evidence-based learning strategies to educate teens about real-life budgeting. It is the ideal playground for students to learn how to manage money — an engaging, learning-by-doing simulation.

If we teach teens the skills they need today to manage their money tomorrow, we stand to improve their lives, our lives as parents and teachers and the economy of our country.

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Around the Web – Teen Personal Finance News

It’s been a busy few weeks in personal finance, with a number of organizations making news relevant to teens, their teachers and their parents. Catch up on the latest stories:

H&R Block Budget Challenge has launched

The announcement of the H&R Block Budget Challenge has made it to Good Morning America, Time, The Wall Street Journal and more. If you’re interested in learning more about this simulation, which gives teens an opportunity to try real-life budgeting without real-life consequences (and compete to win $3 million in grants and scholarships), click here.

Teen obesity linked to lower wages in adulthood

New findings from a study by Springer found that in Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S., male teen obesity was linked to lower wages in adulthood. The wage gap, an astonishing 18%, did not apply to young men who gained weight later in life. Read more.

10 Colleges With Standout Personal Finance Courses

Is your teen’s dream school offering excellent collegiate-level personal finance? Check out this list from, which includes perspectives on personal finance curriculum from professors at the top universities.

“Grads of Life” launched at the 10th Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative

The Grads of Life campaign seeks to bring employers and “opportunity youth” together by changing employers’ perceptions of youth — and that could mean a teen you know, especially one who isn’t looking to enter college right away after high school. “The Grads of Life PSA campaign is the first effort to drive employer demand for the millions of low-income young adults that are a huge source of untapped talent in our country,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Learn more.

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Are American Teens As Financially Fit As Teens In Other Countries?

photo by Tax via Flickr

A recent global survey found  the U.S. ranks average when it comes to teen financial fitness.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development‘s Programme for International Student Assessment collected answers from more than 29,000 15-year-olds in 18 different countries through an hour-long written test, focused on financial issues such as understanding a bank statement, the long-term costs of a loan and how insurance works.  The result: American teenagers are behind similarly-aged students in China and New Zealand.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • About 18% of American students did not demonstrate a basic level of financial proficiency
  • U.S. teens were slightly less likely than teens in other countries to have checking accounts
  • Teens with their own bank accounts scored higher on the test than teens without bank accounts — but teens from wealthier families were far more likely to have bank accounts, so other socio-economic factors may be at play.

“This news comes as no surprise to H&R Block, whose Budget Challenge was created to help young adults learn personal finance and prepare to enter a global workforce,” said Kelli Ramey, vice president of marketing, H&R Block.

According to Ramey, every American teen needs to know the basics. “Having an understanding of personal finances, whether it’s through opening a first checking account or learning how the family budget works, is a good first step in setting up teens for success.”

Click here to learn more about the latest initiatives from H&R Block Dollars & Sense.


11 Surprisingly Common Student Money Misconceptions

By Brian Page, personal finance adviser

Only 7% of high school students are financially literate. Fewer than 30% of adults report being offered financial education at school, college or the workplace. With limited places to turn for sound advice, many students have developed money misconceptions. Here are the 11 most common money misconceptions I’ve observed.

1. I will never be a millionaire. Most students do not believe it is very likely they will someday be millionaires. However, some quick math using a compound interest calculator reveals that a recent high school graduate who invests $7.50 a day in the market until age 65 would be a millionaire, assuming a return of the market average of 7%.

2. I can save what is left over at the end of the month. Research has found otherwise. Those who save first by making automatic savings deposits right from their paycheck save four times more than those who only deposit directly into one account.

3. College is unaffordable. Most teens are well aware of the surge in college costs. Many, however, don’t realize that by comparison shopping, seeking financial aid by completing the FAFSA and looking at alternative pathways to earning a degree, college costs can be made more manageable.

4. All debt is bad. Borrowing now to improve your future self can be a good idea. Affordable mortgages and student loans not exceeding your first year’s anticipated income make sense for most everyday Americans.

5. I should not file a tax return. Many students who file tax returns will be able to get a refund of some or all of the taxes that they paid on their income. H&R Block provides free filing support for certain tax filers.

6. The ongoing expense of an automobile isn’t much. Using the True Cost to Own calculator, students can explore cars they’re interested in and discover additional costs such as insurance, gas and depreciation.

7. My credit report is free at The catchy commercials are often the only exposure students have had to credit reports. No, it’s not free there. However, once a year through each of the three credit reporting agencies they can access their credit reports for free at

8. Overdraft protection is free to use. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the CFPB found that the typical overdraft situation is comparable to a small-dollar loan with a 17,000% interest rate.

9. Disability insurance is not necessary. According to the Social Security Administration, just over one in four of today’s 20-year-olds is likely to become disabled before reaching age 67. Young workers may not be entitled to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits if they haven’t paid sufficient FICA payroll taxes. If you do quality for SSDI, the average monthly benefit is only about $1,150, so additional disability insurance may prove essential.

10. I don’t need to budget right now. Teens annually spend nearly one hundred billion dollars, yet only 17% of teens maintain a budget. So, why budget now? Those with a written plan have been found to save more than those without a plan.

11. Never use credit cards. It depends. If you’re unable to control credit card spending, steer clear of them. However, credit cards can be ideal credit building tools for young consumers who use them responsibly. To begin building credit, consider starting with a secured credit card — do not borrow more than 30% of the credit limit each billing cycle and always pay the balance in full and on time.