WATERLOO, Iowa --- A retired soldier is determined to bring the battle for financial literacy to students in the Cedar Valley.

Mike Finley, 48, a retired U.S. Army military policeman who is on the cusp of obtaining a criminology degree from the University of Northern Iowa, says it's a crime that kids don't understand how finances work.

He's trying to do something about it. The former Army first sergeant and native of Jamaica, Iowa, launched UNI's first Financial Literacy Club. He works with students to make sure they understand the debt issues they'll face when they reach the work force.

He will test members on financial literacy at the end of the school year, and the highest score will earn a $1,000 prize from him.

"I'm putting my money where my mouth is," he said.

Money issues have concerned Finley for years, he said.

"At age 25, I started educating myself because I was financially illiterate," he said. "I started to see the value of what it could do to change your life. I keep trying to find ways to get to the message to young people to do what's right but avoid all the pitfalls in life."

Finley is taking his message beyond UNI. Last week, for example, he met with about 400 students at West High School in Waterloo to discuss avoiding heavy debt and watching expenditures throughout their lives.

"With the current economic situation, it's more important than ever that students are aware of how to be more financially responsible," said Ross Bauer, smaller learning communities coordinator at West High. Bauer invited Finley and a couple of his club members to talk money with a mostly senior audience at the high school.

The club meets at 6 p.m. every Monday in the Maucker Student Union at UNI. Topics include taxes, home purchases and various debt issues.

"We provide them resources, empirical data that shows the reality of decisions they make," he said.

Student loans and other borrowing issues are a hot topic of discussion, Finley said.

"We talk about why you should and shouldn't have a credit card and behaviors and ways to avoid making really big decisions that will affect you for years to come," Finley said.

Finley's club attracted the attention of UNI religion professor Betty DeBerg, who said he is providing a much-needed service.

"I had Mike as a student last semester, and that was when I learned he was running his own financial literacy club for students," she said. "I attended one session and it was really good, really thorough."

The club brings issues students often put off to the forefront of their concerns, DeBerg noted.

"They talk about expensive cell phone plans, automobile expenses, thse kinds of things that often students just don't think about carefully," she said. "I'm thrilled about it."

Finley said he is writing a book on the topic.

"I'm trying to take this message to as many people who are willing to accept it," he said.

Business Editor at The Courier

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