AUSTIN, Texas-A+ Federal Credit Union has partnered with Austin Community College's Student Life office on the "Riverbat Savings Challenge," a nod to the school's mascot.

According to Kelsey Balcaitis, youth financial education coordinator for the $955-million CU, this is the nation's first community college savings challenge.

"We have had a partnership with Austin Community College for quite a long time now," she said. "In the past we have partnered with Student Life, handed out promo items and done workshops, but this year we wanted to do something different that had a chance to have a bigger impact on the students. We approached them with the idea earlier this year, they liked it, and we spent the summer getting set up."

This will be the fifth Savings Challenge developed and run by A+FCU. The previous Challenges have been with Austin area families, San Marcos High School and Connally High School.


Ten Students To Be Selected

The current version will run from October 2012 to March 2013. Ten ACC students will be selected to participate in the Riverbat Savings Challenge and will compete for a grand prize of $2,500 and other cash prizes.

Contestants will attend workshops, coffee chats, meet with certified A+FCU Financial Guides, contribute to the Riverbat Savings Challenge blog, work toward their individual financial goals, and more. At the end of the Challenge, judges from A+FCU and ACC will select the winners.

Balcaitis said previous challenge participants likewise worked with coaches, attended workshops and contributed to a blog, but did not do much else.

"This time we wanted to make it more engaging and more involved," she explained. "We chose 10 contestants, all of whom have to set a financial goal. They will meet with a coach and contribute to a blog, but everything they do earns points."

The contestants have to earn a minimum number of points by March 31, 2013, to be eligible for any cash prizes, Balcaitis continued. She said the minimum is calculated based on what an "average" contestant would do each month.


'Above & Beyond'

"The contestants can go above and beyond by bringing friends to events, or by reading articles and sharing them on the A+ Facebook page," she said. "These things help us reach more people beyond the 10 contestants. We want to reach their friends, and have a social media presence."

The panel of judges includes A+ FCU employees, one of its directors, and a representative from the ACC financial aid office.

Balcaitis said the credit union's message with this challenge is: "financial education is great, but putting it into practice and changing behavior is what matters."

"We will talk about checking credit reports on an annual basis, but then we will expect them to actually do it," she said.

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