QUINCY -- Elena Mast has a working knowledge of credit and debit cards and how to manage her money when she's older.
"If I were to grade my knowledge, I would probably give myself an A-. There's still way more stuff I can learn," said the seventh-grader at St. Peter School.
But Elena's ahead of many college students.
Thirty percent of students give their financial knowledge a grade of C or worse, and five times more female than male students graded their financial knowledge an F, in WalletHub's 2019 College Student Financial Survey.
The personal-finance website's survey also found that:
º More than 2 million college students, or one in 10, believe credit cards are free money.
º 14% of students would rather miss a payment than a party, with lower-income students four times more likely than high-income students to say that.
º One in 10 students say their parents would not approve of their credit card transactions, and nearly two in five students say their friends would make fun of their credit card transactions.
Quincy High School teacher Chris Withiem said he's surprised the survey findings weren't worse.
"Young people today are taken advantage of the moment they graduate high school with tons of emails/texts/calls trying to get them to sign up for a fresh new credit card," he said.
"The problem is only getting worse every year as personal debt keeps piling up like a never-ending tower of bad financial choices."
To help counter that, Withiem offers solid advice in his consumer education classes.
"Financial education is just as important to financial security as drivers education is to road safety," he said. "Credit equals debt. Don't be fooled by the name. It's a debt card, not a credit card."
Elena built her financial literacy skills thanks to Junior Achievement classes offered at her school and an opportunity to attend JA's BizTown as a sixth-grader.
"We learned a lot of the basics like having a bank account, writing checks, how to manage money," she said. "A lot of it was giving you a taste of what it was like to be older. At first you think it's so fun and you can't wait to grow up, but you learn things are good, but some are not so fun about it."
She even got a taste of running a business this summer, using her JA lessons to launch a lemonade stand and using the proceeds to help pay for Camp Ondessonk horse camp.
"I don't think it's ever too soon to be understanding how money works, to be saving, to be budgeting and to learn how to make decisions with the resources they have," Elena's mom Maria Mast said. "Planting those seeds early, helping kids be thoughtful and mindful about that is only going to make them a little more well-rounded and better prepared to handle the decisions and opportunities that come later in life."
St. Peter Principal Cindy Venvertloh said learning about money gives students a "greater respect" for things they have.
"They understand better how you operate with money. It's not just something Mom and Dad just had," Venvertloh said. "It's not just something given to you. It's something earned. You have to work for it."
Gretchen McGee, a volunteer who works with JA programs at St. Peter, sees the lessons as good building blocks for the students.
"They're preparing themselves for the future, and a big part of the future is how to deal with their finances," McGee said. "It touches on an individual, touches on your community and how you give back to your community, helps the kids learn how to be entrepreneurs, think about what they want to do and teaches them how to become financially responsible."
Hundreds of community volunteers each year teach JA programs on work readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship to thousands of students in Northeast Missouri and West-Central Illinois.
"JA is teaching kids the opposite of what they're learning at home in many cases, that you do need to be responsible for yourself and don't rely on somebody else helping you," McGee said. "Once you're stable enough, strong enough, you'll reach out and help others give back."