After looking at other people's credit reports for more than a decade as a mortgage sales manager, Nikko Grant knew that many people are clueless when it comes to managing their credit. He watched as people hurt their chances of taking out a mortgage or paid more than they had to because of mistakes they'd made. "Kids graduating from high school don't know about credit scores. It's not their fault -- our society doesn't prepare us, and it will cost them a whole lot of money before they figure it out," he says.
Grant made it his mission to change that situation by educating more students about credit through a board game he invented. Called "Credit Scores," the two- to four-player game involves navigating a board filled with credit-related details with the help of a dice. Players start with a mid-level credit score of 620 and gain or lose points depending on where they land. The first player to reach the impressive credit score of 740 wins the game. (As of this writing, Grant has raised about $280 of his desired $25,000.)
Grant came up with the idea for the game on a family trip to Disney World. "As I was seeing kids playing around, it hit me that everyone likes to have fun, especially when you're a kid. A light bulb went off and I thought, 'I think I can make this thing about credit scores in a fun way.'"After his family finished with the rides for the day, he stayed up sketching out his idea for the game. He has spent about $8,000 of his own money developing it, including working with professional graphic designers and manufacturers.
John Ulzheimer, a credit expert and president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com, says games like "Credit Scores" can be great for exposing young people to concepts related to credit and borrowing early on. "I also like the idea of teaching young people that credit is a tool, rather than that credit and banks are the enemy," he says. Anything that helps parents engage with their kids around personal finance topics can lead to useful conversations and can also serve to help educate adults more, too.
John C. Linfield, executive director of the Institute for Financial Literacy, which gives awards for the best financial literacy products each year, says he looks for games that are fast-moving and enjoyable, so the content is easily digested before participants get bored. "It's like trying to get your toddler to eat brussel sprouts. You have to make it fun," he says.
After reviewing the "Credit Scores" board game on its Kickstarter page, Linfield gave it high marks for family involvement, since it's designed to be played around the table by a family, which can lead to a useful discussion about credit and how credit scores work. "The interactivity also gives an opportunity to use it as a catalyst for other conversations about finances," he says.
Linfield also looks for straightforward rules that make the game easy to play while also imparting financial information -- qualities he can't judge without first playing the game himself. "The tendency among students is to skip to the bottom and just get points to win, rather than reading through content. Parents can stay on top of it and make sure they're engaging in content and the technical information," he says. Some creators of financial games make the mistake of assuming people will pick up financial information just by reading content, but it has to be more interactive than that, he says.
"We support any product that gets a conversation going between kids and parents about their finances, and any product that accomplishes that goal is a good thing," Linfield adds.
Grant's goal is to get the game in schools and YMCAs throughout the country to help young people learn about credit scores at an earlier age. Grant, 30, who lives in Indianapolis and has a 4-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter, says one challenge has been getting word out about the game and raising the funds to help him mass-produce it and get it into stores. He put up $700 for LeVar Burton's successful Kickstarter campaign for Reading Rainbow, which will earn him a 10-minute conversation with Burton. Grant hopes that call will lead to useful advice and next steps. "He's passionate about teaching kids to read, I'm passionate about credit -- who knows where it might lead," he says.
Grant is also considering applying to be on the hit ABC show, "Shark Tank," which features entrepreneurs and gives them the chance to earn investments from the show's "sharks," including Mark Cuban. "If I didn't have to work, I would travel across the country, go into high schools, and talk to auditoriums full of young men and women and teach them about this topic," Grant says. "I hope one day I can make it a full-time career."
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