So what can be done to give foster kids a solid personal finance foundation?

Opportunity Passport bridges the gap

Eddye's story isn't that of the typical kid aging out of the system.

After she turned 18, her caseworker told her about a program called Opportunity Passport that would match every dollar she saved, up to $1,000 per year. All she had to do was complete some personal finance classes.

“The classes didn't seem like a huge thing,” says Eddye. “But when I learned about the match, I thought, 'OK, I'm game.'”

Eddye used matched funds to purchase a car and a laptop. She's also used her savings to pay for her Certified Nursing Assistant and Emergency Medical Technician licenses.

The program has three main benefits for participants:

First, the program gives foster kids experience in handling money. In a classroom, personal finance concepts are theoretical. But when there's real money in their hands, kids can better understand why it's important to make good financial decisions.

“I knew what a budget was, but I thought it didn't pertain to me because I never had a large amount of money,” says Eddye. “But now, I see why it's important to track my spending. Without that, I would probably be in a lot of debt. My budget is my rock.”

Her success has also made her feel more capable and confident: “I've been comfortable keeping a budget for three years, and I'm really proud of that.”

Second, the program gives kids incentive to save. Like Eddye, many kids are initially drawn to the program's savings match. It's the catalyst to start saving money and it motivates kids to stick with it, resulting in a higher savings balance.

And money in the bank means one emergency won't be a huge setback. “[When I bought my car] I didn't think about costs of maintenance,” says Eddye. “But the reality is that cars break down. I've learned the hard way that you need that cushion.”

Third, the program provides education and support. Kids learn how to avoid debt, manage a bank account, and keep a budget, which are critical skills when you're on your own. Although Eddye initially felt overwhelmed and intimidated, she says, “Now I'm not afraid to ask questions and dig in and do the research,” she says.

So how does the program work?