Living with credit, New products

Players gain financial knowledge — rather than yards — on this football field

Connie Prater

Do you want to avoid seeing your favorite team’s quarterback get crushed in the backfield? Then you’d better know something about inflation and how debit cards work.

Just in time for the start of the 2010 regular football season, the National Football League and Visa Inc. have teamed up to release a new educational video game: Financial Football 2.0.
The game is free and available online. You can play online or order a free disk . A free iPhone HD version is also available on iTunes.

Originally launched in 2005, the new 2.0 version was announced Sept. 13 by Visa and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

“It would have been great to learn more about personal finance when I was in school,” Brees said in a press release. Brees, who promotes financial literacy in talks to young people, helped create some of the questions in the new version of the game and his picture appears on the cover. The video game will help give today’s students “the opportunity to learn about the financial world in ways that were never available to me when I was younger.”

Available in both English and Spanish, the game allows you to play at three different levels: 11- to 14-year olds (called the Rookies), 14- to 18-year olds (aka the Pros) and people 18 and over (the Hall of Famers). You can play against the computer as a single player or choose the head-to-head option, which allows you to play against a human opponent on the same computer. There are also options for the length of the game (as little as five minutes and up to 30 minutes spread over four quarters).

While on offense, players advance on the football field by correctly answering a series of questions about personal finance, education loans, credit cards, debit cards, credit histories, debt collection, economics and retirement and investments. While on defense, correct answers produce tackles, quarterback sacks and lost yardage for the opposing team.
A warning to you diehard gamers: This is NOT Madden NFL 11. Although Visa says in its blog the new version has “better graphics, more game play options and a broader reach” than the 2005 version, the graphics are still light years behind the popular PS2, Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 games.

The staff at wanted to see how challenging and educational the new game actually was, so we played it — lots of times. Here’s what we found:

Are you ready for some football?
I loved the NFL theme music that plays when you launch the game. It makes me feel like I’m in my living room about to watch a real match-up. But then, a colleague points out, rightly so, that there is no volume control on the music. It drones on — loudly — throughout the game. Your only option for the music is off or on. “It’s set at an annoyingly loud level; I had my earbuds sitting on my desk rather than in my ears, and it was still plenty loud,” notes editor-in-chief Dan Ray.

I played three head-to-head games against multimedia producer Tyler Metzger. He was disappointed in the game’s graphics, commenting that they were “from 20 years ago” and “wack.” We played all three levels (Rookie, Pro and Hall of Fame) to get a feel for the type of questions posed to each age group. We won one game each and tied on the third game.

You get to choose from among real NFL teams, so you can be a Miami Dolphin or New Orleans Saint or Dallas Cowboy, for example, or play against them if you want. The game gives season stats that reflect the number of wins and losses for each of the teams selected by everyone who has played the game.

Players can choose between easy, medium and hard questions. We are personal finance experts so they were easy hand-offs for most of us. We did wonder how average Americans who don’t read about personal finance every day would be able to handle some of the tougher questions. Do you know what “cost basis,” “laissez-faire economics,” “tariffs,” “custodial fees,” or a “progressive tax” are? Yes, the point of the game is to test your knowledge and, if you come up short (on yards or answers) to seek additional information.

More information needed
Our biggest beef was that the game doesn’t provide you with information about why your answer was wrong or more details about the correct answer immediately following the question.  An example, Roth IRAs, 529 educational funds and statute of limitations are terms that are used, but the player has no opportunity to learn more details about what these items are when the questions come up. Since the clock is still ticking on game play, you must move on to the next play and question — still clueless about what a 529 fund is.

By the way, a 529 plan is a college savings plan offered by states and colleges that allows the money to grow tax-deferred and parents to withdraw the funds tax-free when they need it for their children’s tuition. A Roth IRA is a retirement investment that taxes money as you put it into the fund but all earnings and withdrawals from the fund are tax-free once you hit retirement age. Statute of limitations refers to the time limit that creditors have to legally sue to collect an old credit card or other debt. It varies by state.

“It might be helpful to get explanations when you give a wrong answer,” notes reporter Jeremy Simon, after playing the game. “Otherwise, you just have a lousy play.”

Although the game gives you your final football stats and number of incorrect and right answers, there is no opportunity that I could find to review all of my questions and answers. The game does have a link to a “Resources” page that you can click. But by the end of the game, you aren’t likely to remember the question or the term that you missed. Note: The game has a teaching component designed for classroom teachers to go over the concepts in more detail.

But Ray notes, “On the resources page, the first thing I looked at was the ‘Debt’ intro, and it had a factual error in it. It says consumer debt’s at an all-time high. It’s not; the Fed’s G.19 report, which we faithfully write about each month, says it’s been declining; the credit card portion of consumer debt has been on its way down for about two years as consumers pay off debt, have delinquent debt charged off or have their credit limits reduced.”

Another part of the resources section — called “Credit card pros and cons” — is “tilted heavily toward the ‘pros,'” Ray notes.” Guess you have to expect that from a Visa-sponsored game.”
He adds: “The game itself was kinda fun. I liked seeing the ‘Fins snuff the Cowboys and contribute to their so-far undefeated season.”

Lots of questions
Among the topics covered in the questions: capital gains, using credit cards for cash advances, what to do about e-mails that seem fraudulent, protecting yourself from identity theft, eligibility for federal college loans, fair debt collection practices, withdrawing money from a 401(k), tax deductions for dependent children, protecting your personal information when shopping online, what happens to your estate if you die without a will, debt-to-income ratios, Ponzi schemes, inflation, deflation and how applying for multiple credit cards can impact your ability to get a loan.

Here’s one that stumped me: What is the latest time a telemarketer can call your home? Is it 8 p.m., 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.? Correct answer is 9 p.m. I said 8 p.m. I don’t want them calling me at any time.

There was even a question related to the new Credit CARD Act of 2009: If you’re under 21 and don’t have any income, you can only get a credit card in your name if an adult co-signs on the account with you.

Some questions appeared to have more than one right or appropriate answer. Just like the SAT you take in high school. Sheesh.

Timed play
Tick tock.  The game clock is always on and people who are slow readers or freeze up during multiple-choice questions may have a hard time. You have only 40 seconds to select a play and then read both the question and choices and click the correct answer. I ran out of time and was called for a “delay of game” when I took too long on a question. I incurred five-yard penalties for every delay of game.

I wondered about the 11-to-14-year olds playing timed games. One question asks you to determine how much interest you would earn on $1,000 over two years at 10 percent interest.  The answer: $210. Some people — adults and children — might have gone scrambling for a scrap of paper and pencil to figure it out.

I figured out later that you can turn off the 40-second clock to remove the time pressure.

The drive to win
“First of all, it’s too low-scoring,” notes Anna Bleker, a 20-something graphic artist. She echoed several people who bemoaned the fact that they answered questions correctly but got low yardage on plays and didn’t score very many touchdowns. “No one scored any touchdowns or points … so, I don’t want to play again.”

Forget financial literacy. The true football enthusiasts wanted to win the game!

This may be a problem for Financial Football. It may not be able to keep younger players in the game very long.

Our overall recommendation for the game: PICK. Anything that advances America’s understanding of their personal finances is a winner in our playbook.

See related: U.S. looks to create financial literacy pyramid, New credit education campaign features interactive game

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