Market Street Magazine Fall 2013

Chris Palermo estimates that he recruited more than 20,000 people to sign up for charge cards - most of them college students -while working at his first job out of college for a credit card company.

Years later, he began to experience a tinge of regret when he became a mortgage broker and found himself turning down 20-something after 20-something because they had too much debt to qualify for a mortgage.

''I'd ask, 'How did you get all this credit card debt?'" Palermo says, and the answer was usually that they used it to buy a better lifestyle in college than they otherwise could have afforded. "It made me wonder: Didn't anyone ever teach them about this in high school?"

A few times, he actually asked; and sure enough, the answer was always no. "They would say, 'I wish somebody had told me."'

Palermo decided to become that somebody.

Credit card companies used to recruit new sign-ups on college campuses. That practice was outlawed several years ago.

Palermo says it was effective. "For example, if we were working a Penn State football game where Penn State was playing Michigan, we would bring a bunch of blue and white T-shirts that said 'Beat Michigan.' They were specifically created for the event we were going to sell at.''

Nowadays, Palermo says the companies still market effectively to college students by recruiting them just off campus and through other targeted techniques.

He founded the nonprofit F.A.C.E.- the Foundation for Adolescent Credit Education - to warn teens (seventh grade through first-year college students) about these tricks and to teach them the importance of creating and maintaining a high credit score.

Tricia Robak, a Drexel LeBow associate clinical professor of finance, is on the board of F.A.C.E. and teaches some of the seminars.

"Pennsylvania does not require financial education for high school students," she says. "Most students  have an idea of what credit cards are, but most don't understand how much you can damage your credit score, or that if you don't have a high credit score, you end up paying a lot more for your mortgage.''

Robak says, especially for the younger students, they stress the mantra "cash is king;' and warn them to only bring as much money as they need for the item they intend to purchase, to help avoid impulse spending.

They tell the older students that they should consider getting a credit card so as to establish a credit history, which will eventually help them get a mortgage or a business loan. But they warn them to treat credit cards as a last resort - perhaps for an emergency - and to pay them off every month.

F.A.C.E. also stresses the importance of saving."I try to do a lot of exercises to help them understand how if they start saving at a young age, their savings will grow over time," Robak says.

Participating schools don't have to pay for F.A.C.E. workshops, but many make a small donation to cover the cost of materials - mainly, the cost of printing the financial literacy workbook that Palermo created for his workshops.

He also raises money through grassroots fundraising methods such as raffles and dinner events, as well as through its website. F.A.C.E. is fully a volunteer effort.


Students face-to-FACE with financial literacy

Tuesday, January 15, 2013



MEDIA — Penncrest High School sophomore Josh Cadorette was so energized by a financial literacy class held by the Foundation for Adolescent Credit Education, he’s decided to enter that field for a career.

The Media-based FACE presents either a six-week class or a two-hour seminar to show teenagers and young adults how to handle credit and make beneficial financial decisions to solidify their monetary prowess.

Cadorette’s mom, Lisa Roberts Cadorette, shared the impact that the program and its executive director, Christopher Palermo, had on her son, who’s decided to major in business or finance when he goes to college.

“Chris made the whole world of debt and personal finance much more understandable to Josh — Josh now definitely ‘gets’ what a credit score is, why it’s important to have good credit and how easy it is to fall into the pitfalls of overextending yourself,” she said.

Palermo said even just a small retention of the program could make a difference for these students.

“If they just remember one or two things,” he said, “they could save tens of thousands of dollars.”

Palermo, who sold credit cards for MBNA in the 1990s, developed the curriculum initially as a stand-alone book, but was encouraged by Anthony Barber, director of teaching and learning of elementary schools at the Springfield School District, to create a course.

It was first presented to the seventh-grade challenge students at St. Mary Magdalen in Media, where it is still taught. It has since appeared in the Springfield middle and high schools, Penncrest, Kennett Square High School and Temple University, and in the Ridley School District. There are plans to have it at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Bala Cynwyd.

No matter where it is, the core remains the same.

“I want them to know that they can achieve financial stability no matter where you start,” Palermo said. “We all start at zero.”

He said he wants the students to understand the choices they make either add to their wealth or subtract from it and part of that comes from living within one’s means, saving and building credit

Palermo said students need to learn how to handle credit cards and debt. “They have to learn to use it properly,” he said. “It’s not the card that’s bad. It’s how you use it.”

Palermo said he teaches them to avoid money traps, such as unfinished car loans that roll over from vehicle to vehicle or retail sales. For instance, he said he’ll ask them, “If Abercrombie’s having a 30 percent sale this weekend, are you going? Did you outgrow your clothes? There’s always another sale.”

Other strategies he offers is building a financial team and developing a savings plan.

The vision for FACE, Palermo explained, is to bring this instruction into as many classes as possible.

“The goal is to get into every school that wants us,” he said.

At least one parent said the FACE presentation was accessible to her child in an effective way.

“Chris was able to make a very important and complicated concept easy (and even exciting) for a 15-year-old to understand,” Roberts Cadorette said. “Chris is wonderful at talking to these kids at their level and in language they understand. Josh left the presentation not only with a better understanding of credit and making good financial choices, but also with a true interest in the world of finance.”

David Matthews, a business education teacher at Penncrest, had the six-week FACE program for about 125 of his students. He said the message reiterated his lessons by presenting some real-life stories to the financial topics.

“I think it was very well done,” Matthews said. “The message is vitally important to high school students. Financial literacy is huge. It’s something most people wished they had learned in high school. I think these classes should be mandatory.”


FYI: The Foundation for Adolescent Credit Education can be reached at or by calling Christopher Palermo, FACE’s executive director, at 610-764-4091.

In Focus : Community Affairs

Thursday, July 7, 2011



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