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The state treasurer's office will put its money where its mouth is in an ongoing effort to help high school students learn to manage personal finances, Treasurer Don Stenberg announced. 

The Nebraska Education Savings Trust, administered by the treasurer's office, will give $14,000 in scholarship contributions to winners of a personal finance challenge open to the state's high school students.

The statewide competition has been sponsored for the past five years by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education. About 3,200 high school students, guided by about 200 teachers, participate annually.

Stenberg hopes adding prizes for winners will increase those numbers. He said the competition is a great way to promote the importance of educating students on personal finances.

"As chief financial officer of the state and as a parent and grandparent, I firmly believe that we must emphasize and promote financial literacy for young Nebraskans," he said. "That education will help them make good decisions about their personal finances and will help them reach their goals and achieve their dreams."

The Nebraska Education Savings Trust is a 529 tax-advantaged college savings program with 200,000 accounts nationwide, more than 54,000 of them from Nebraska. A small amount of the money set aside to administer the trust can be used to promote the savings plans and provide scholarships, Stenberg said.

The competition begins with an online challenge for teams of students, and the top five teams go on to face-to-face regional competitions April 20.

In those competitions, each team is given a financial scenario of a fictional family and two hours to come up with a plan and create a PowerPoint presentation explaining it, said Jennifer Davidson, director of programs and community development for the council.

A Nebraska team placed seventh last year, and the year before a team placed 13th nationally, Davidson said. She hopes the prospect of getting a scholarship will inspire students to work even harder this year.

Team members who get first place in the state competition will each get a $2,000 contribution to a college savings plan. Second-prize winners each will get a $1,000 contribution, and third-place winners will get a $500 contribution.

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Stenberg commended the Nebraska Department of Education's inclusion of personal finances in its recently revised social studies standards, and he said the importance of financial literacy can be seen in the failed mortgage loans that preceded the recession and in rising credit card debt and student loan defaults.

Roger Butters, president of the economic council, said the most important lesson for students is simple but also the hardest to learn: "Don't buy what you can't afford."

Stenberg said he hopes the prizes raise awareness of the competition, the state's college savings plan and the need for young people to become financially literate.

"It's one of those things, you'd hope the competition itself would draw interest, but there's nothing like a couple thousand dollars to encourage competition in the state and get more kids involved."

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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