MONEY-SMART KIDS


Giving Kids a Head Start on Financial Know-How

Janet Bodnar

Hoping to get your child interested in investing and saving? Here's a good place to start.




The financial-services industry invests heavily in financial education for kids, so there is an endless supply of books, Web sites, games and even curriculum materials. But they are missing an important component: affordable, convenient financial products that help children become financially active. Where can I find such products?

Start with a couple of organizations that offer kid-focused products geared toward investing and banking.

As part of its college-saving program, Monetta Financial Services (www.monetta.com) has launched Monetta Young Investor fund, a mutual fund with a kids theme. Other companies have introduced child-centric funds, especially during the heady days of the bull market, but the funds have delivered less-than-impressive returns over the years.

Robert Bacarella, Monetta's president, hopes to do better by investing at least 50 percent of Young Investor's assets in funds that track Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. With that as a base, he plans to invest the rest of the fund's assets in individual companies that kids can recognize -- such as Best Buy, Disney, Mattel, Pepsi and Wal-Mart.

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Such consumer-oriented stocks tend to be less volatile, and, says Bacarella, "they outperform in down markets."

Monetta Young Investor has a minimum investment of $1,000, or $250 with an automatic investment of $25 per month, and the fund's annual expenses are capped at 1%.

Monetta also provides an investment kit for kids, plus online games, including a stock-picking contest in which youngsters can monitor stocks they select from the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial average.

As a bonus, investors can accumulate free college-tuition credits good for up to one year of tuition per student, redeemable evenly over a four-year undergraduate education. About 200 colleges participate in the program, including Creighton, DePaul, Drexel, Duquesne, Fairleigh Dickenson, Ohio Wesleyan, St. Lawrence and Valparaiso universities.

In the area of banking, Young Americans Bank (www.yacenter.org) caters specifically to kids under the age of 22. Headquartered in Denver, Young Americans serves bank-by-mail customers from all 50 states.

Most of the bank's 15,000 accounts are savings accounts, but it also offers checking accounts, credit cards and loans (to Colorado customers).




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