State Rep. Maureen Walsh sees a need for earlier financial education.

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Financial education should be a core component in secondary education, Maureen Walsh feels. "I don't like unfunded mandates for our high schools, but I think this is an important part of our curriculum."

Walsh, a state representative from College Place, was speaking from two positions -- as a legislator and a mom.

"Everyone needs to be financially literate. Part of that is getting the word out. I'm not sure government has to step up to do that, but I do think the majority of young people are reached through the school system and it is a skill they need when stepping out into the world."

Even in her family and even with smart, sensible kids like her oldest child, Walsh said.

Shauna Walsh, now 24, started off in a private college with some financial buffering provided by her folks. "I think we were pretty generous as far as helping with expenses," her mother recalled.

Shauna Walsh was appreciative of that. When a credit card landed in her school mailbox, she may have seen it as a way of not needing to ask for any additional help, her mom explained.

And so the hole digging began. "Like with every credit card, no one reads the fine print. That introductory (interest) rate, you make one mistake, one payment late, and the rates go way up."

And the oldest Walsh child was at a school that attracted a population of students with wealthy families. "And kids compare themselves," Maureen said, adding that while her family is monetarily sound, offspring aren't handed everything on a plate.

Her late husband, Kelly Walsh, abhorred casual credit, preferring to pay cash for everything. When he died in 2006, his clean financial slate got her back on her feet, she said.

Shauna Walsh maxed out that first $500 limit and then, right before the holidays, the credit card company upped the limit to $800.

Just in time to buy Christmas presents, she noted in an e-mail. "Coincidence? I think not!"

The debt came as a big surprise to Mom and Dad. "I consider my daughter to be extremely intelligent," Maureen Walsh said, "but the joy of being able to spend this money ... she got scared and didn't know how to get out as a student."

Her daughter, however, was one of the lucky ones. Her father sat her down, cut the credit card up, wrote a check for the balance and warned his daughter. "He said 'Don't do this again,'" Maureen Walsh recalled. "There are folks who don't have that chance, especially now."

She's not anti credit-card, she said. "I'm not saying I don't have one. I do. But I pay it off monthly."

While her daughter took the experience to heart and continues to do so, a lack of money smarts plagues many people, the representative said. "I wish financial education would have started a long time ago. I would love to see some kind of financial literacy class for juniors and seniors. Maybe even sophomores."

Shauna Walsh agrees. "The earlier students can be forewarned about possible 'financial trap,' like credit card companies that target 18-year-old kids, the better off all parties involved will be. Fiscal responsibility is a theme in which most adults I know could use a lesson or two, hence the current state of our economy."

The best course for change is creating partnerships between local lending institutions, schools, churches and social-service agencies, Maureen Walsh said. "Whenever you can get folks in the community to partner, that just strengthens the program."

Her situation is one of those "remember when" family stories now, but it was decidedly not a laughing matter at the time, Shauna Walsh said. "If I didn't have such a wonderful mom and dad to help bail me out, I don't know what I would have done.

"The reality is that some parents are not responsible with their own money and they would not be able to bail their kids out, even if they wanted to."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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