Making money with books: US Dollar bins in front and a stack of books behind it

This Tax Season Become a Smart Investor@Your Library

For many Americans it's a yearly ritual. When tax season rolls around, they visit their public library. That's because many public libraries provide their patrons with everything from physical tax forms (though the IRS has cut back on hard copies in recent years) to an array of programs and information to assist in filing federal and state income taxes.

There is no shortage of
innovative library programs
devoted to financial education.

But libraries offer far more on the financial front than resources for tax prep. Across the country, libraries are working with financial educators to bring innovative programs and resources to visitors of all ages to help them hone a wide range of financial skills. One dynamic partnership is Smart investing@your library®, which has been meeting financial and investor education needs of library patrons for more than ten years. The effort is managed jointly by the American Library Association (ALA) and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

Since 2007, the initiative has engaged well over 1,000 library facilities in 43 states. The result? An expansive network for providing personal finance programs and services for people of all ages. Today, if you walk into your library, there's a good chance your library professionals will be able to steer you to a wealth of unbiased financial education resources to help you with everything from budgeting to managing debt to getting started as an investor.

Thinking Money Exhibition

If you're looking for personal finance education that is splashy, interactive and makes you feel like you're stepping into the pages of a graphic novel, ALA and the FINRA Foundation have collaborated to design a traveling financial literacy exhibition. The exhibition is called Thinking Money and is finishing a national, 50-library tour. Since September 2016, the exhibition has toured 44 public libraries across the country. An additional six libraries are scheduled to host the exhibition through June 2018.

The exhibition challenges audiences to consider what it means to be financially capable in today's world. It draws extensively from the financial literacy tools, data, and multimedia developed and funded by the FINRA Foundation over the past decade.

The exhibition has an intergenerational focus that prompts teens and adults to examine money behaviors and the various actions that may lead to positive or counterproductive financial outcomes.

So far, the exhibition has helped over 311,000 library patrons learn new and useful skills about money management. Evaluation data show attendees didn't waste their time: The majority of library patrons who visited Thinking Money or attended related programs planned changes to their money management practices based on what they learned. These changes include making better spending choices, saving more, budgeting, changing credit card practices, and putting money away for college or retirement.

Fun, Focus and Financial Fitness

There is no shortage of innovative library programs devoted to financial education.

For example, the Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia uses Families Understanding Numbers (FUN) to drive home budgeting basics and fundamental personal finance principles. The program is designed for families and focuses on real-world situations such as a banking session that included role-playing a customer service call to a bank and simply asking "What can you do for me?"

Meanwhile, in San Diego—home to 230,000 active duty service members, veterans, Guard and Reserve members and their families—the local library has developed a financial education program to help servicemen and women and their families. The Start Here: Your Road to Smart and Savvy Personal Finance program aims to help meet the unique financial challenges (such as deployment) facing this population.

Emmet O'Neal Library in Mountain Brook, Alabama partnered with faculty from the University of Alabama-Birmingham to deliver educational experiences related to advanced personal finance topics, such as understanding global financial markets, conducting investment research and selecting financial professionals. For early-career adults in their 20s and 30s, the library used a "Table Talk$" format featuring conversational seminars at reception-like gatherings. Table Talk$ addressed saving and investing for major life goals, such as buying a house or starting a family. Teen programming, meanwhile, focused on how to save for college and how to make appropriate financial decisions while in college. Seminars helped teens understand how their choice of major might impact earning potential following graduation, and how much may be too much to borrow.

These are just three examples of many of the ways public libraries across the country are working to meet the unique financial education needs of their communities.

The next time to visit your public library, remember you can do a lot more than pick up a tax form or check out books. You can give your finances a check-up too.

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