By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud If the recent economic meltdown taught consumers anything, it’s that “common knowledge” about personal finance topics shouldn’t be relied upon. For instance, the old axiom about real estate always being a safe investment is little comfort to the millions of consumers who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Unfortunately, too many consumers today leave high school without the basic personal finance skills they need to avoid the tricks and traps that litter the marketplace. For example, students unable to balance their own checkbooks are very likely to incur significant overdraft fees from their banks. Young adults without a firm grasp of how a credit card works are likely to rack up big balances that can cripple them financially for years to come. Recent graduates in the market for their first car may be lured in by unscrupulous dealers who trap them with a high-cost loan that they barely afford. Perhaps now, more than ever, consumers understand the need for a solid education in the fundamentals of personal finance. For the thousands of teens that participate in NCL’s LifeSmarts competition every year, this component of their schooling gives them the tools they need to be an informed consumer. Teens participating in LifeSmarts form teams with classmates under the direction of an adult coordinator. They use the LifeSmarts.org website to learn about a variety of topics, including personal finance. They take practice tests to sharpen their knowledge and eventually compete in online competitions. The teams that score the highest move on to a live, “Jeopardy”-style state championship, with state winners heading to the LifeSmarts National Championship. Given the impact of the real estate bust on the state, it is especially apt that this year’s LifeSmarts National Championship will be held in Los Angeles, California. With proper education in the fundamentals of personal finance, teens can learn to spot a good load from a bad one and avoid being put into a situation where they take on more home than they can afford. As we begin National Consumer Protection Week, the lessons of LifeSmarts are more valuable and necessary than ever. Consumers interested in getting a LifeSmarts team started at their local high schools and middle schools can visit LifeSmarts.org to get more information.