H&R Block Invests $3 Million in Teaching Teens About Money

young students studying...

In a new program dubbed the "H&R Block Budget Challenge," the world's largest tax services company is offering $3 million to help kids get smarter about money matters.

As H&R Block (HRB) explains, "By learning strong budgeting skills and fiscal discipline early, kids can gain the knowledge and confidence to manage their own financial future." To help that process, Block has set up a free online game that schoolteachers can use to improve teen financial literacy.

Real Life, Online

Within the program, students take on the role of recent college graduates, gainfully employed and equipped with "a regular paycheck, a checking account [and] a 401(k) savings account." Students must then use their income and assets to navigate situations that should be familiar to any adult, such as "paying bills, managing expenses, saving money, investing in retirement, paying taxes and more."

Points can be earned for "maximizing 401(k) savings, paying bills on time and responding correctly to quiz questions." Conversely, students who trip up and leave themselves open to paying late fees on bills, overdraft fees for overdrawing their accounts, and finance charges for carrying too much credit card debt will see their scores hurt. For bonus points, students can take quizzes to test their knowledge of financial concepts over the course of the game.

Teamwork Pays Off

Classrooms play as a team, scored for the average performance of students within each classroom, and competing with other student classrooms for a total of as much as $3 million in potential grants and scholarships. These break down like so:

  • 60 classroom grants worth up to $5,000 apiece.

  • 132 opportunities for student scholarships of $20,000 each.

  • One grand prize scholarship of $100,000.

  • Periodic student incentives that can be won during game-play.

When you add all those up, H&R Block may end up paying out slightly more than $3 million from this program. Each classroom has the potential to win a total of two grants based on good performance in the competition -- one awarded midway through the competition and one at the program's conclusion. (It began Oct. 3, and the final period ends April 16.)

Individual students can also win scholarships -- with 22 available for the highest individual scorers in each of the program's six sessions. (Only one win per student.) And the best-performing student over the competition can win the grand prize scholarship of $100,000.

High school teachers (grades nine-12) wanting to participate in the H&R Block Budget Challenge can register online. Both public and private schools are eligible to enter the program -- and indeed, Block is even making the Budget Challenge available to home-schoolers (who can win scholarships, but not classroom grants).

The Upshot

For H&R Block, this program sounds like a great way to get some good PR for its business, and at a very modest cost -- the $3 million in scholarship money represents barely 1.2 percent of the $237 million that H&R Block spent on marketing and advertising last year, according S&P Capital IQ. And if it ends up generating smarter financial consumers who might eventually decide they could use some of H&R Block's own financial services down the road -- all the better.

For teachers and students, meanwhile, this is free money (and not insignificantly, free lesson planning for time-pressed teachers) and not to be passed up. And if it also helps to improve America's abysmal record for financial literacy among teens, well, that would be nice, too.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned, either. But we both approve of better financial literacy, natch. To learn about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.