A Professor's Goal to Teach Students About Money

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America: What’s your money story? Credit.com contributor Bob Sullivan is hitting the road to ask the people he meets across the U.S. that very question. Whether it’s your struggle with student loans, what you did when you lost your job, how you dealt with a house that was underwater or the ingenious way you paid off a major debt – we want to know about it. Everyone’s story is unique, but the concept of money – and the challenges and triumphs that come with it – is universal.

Bob’s travels are taking him through Chicago, Iowa City, Omaha, Denver and then Seattle. If you’re along that route and want to share your money story, you can reach out to him on social media, using the hashtag #AmericanMoneyStories.

06Here are the dispatches from Bob’s time on the road.

CHARLESTON, Ill. — Axton Betz-Hamilton is just starting out, but the Illinois state pension mess is already having a direct impact on her career. Betz-Hamilton is a freshly minted Ph.D. and now professor at Eastern Illinois University, not too far from Indiana. She’s also a new wife, but lives entirely across the state from her husband, who lives and works in East Moline, right on the Iowa border. When that job at Eastern Illinois came open, Betz-Hamilton jumped at it — it’s a tough time to get a job as a professor. They trade off on the 3.5-hour drive during weekends to see each other.

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Axton Betz-Hamilton

“It’s really not too bad,” she said. “We get to spend more time in the summers together, too.” Betz-Hamilton, 32, isn’t thinking about retirement. But the Illinois pension mess is directly impacting her anyway. Illinois has the worst state pension crisis in the nation — a $100 billion hole — and it has had to take radical steps to plug the hole. News of changes that are coming, which almost certainly will involve decreased benefits for state employees who retire in the future, have many employees opting for early retirement now.

Plenty of professors, also state employees, are retiring, too. That means larger class sizes for the remaining teachers, like Betz-Hamilton, and fewer opportunities to teach advanced classes. Betz-Hamilton must teach mandatory “core” classes instead.

“I spend a lot of time on the basics, like grammar and sentence structure, in addition to course content,” she said. Still, she teaches some life skills courses, such as housing, where she makes sure her students know all the ins and outs of buying and maintaining homes.

“The thing they are most surprised about is how long it takes to buy a home, how much paperwork and planning is involved,” she said.

Among the first stark realizations: Down payment requirements. Many students fear they will never build up a bank account big enough to afford a down payment. But they also have no idea where their money goes.

“After I have them do an assignment where they track their spending … they then realize how much money they are spending on going out to dinner, on clothes,” she said. “A person has to understand what they can afford, and creating a personal budget is key to that understanding.”

Want to read more of Bob’s #AmericanMoneyStories? You can follow his road trip on Credit.com.


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