- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

Pennsylvania has created a personal financial education Web site for its residents that appears to be the first of its kind in the nation.

The site, www.moneysbestfriend.com, covers everything from banking, budgeting and investing, to buying a house and getting married. It explains concepts and provides tips, calculators and a glossary of financial terms.

The Web sites of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia offer links where residents can learn more about paying taxes or starting a business. More detailed information is scattered among myriad state offices and can be difficult to find, and it lacks a personal touch.

New York and Wisconsin have state-level financial education efforts, but they were not used as models for the Pennsylvania initiative, which was designed to make the information available to all residents in a cost-effective way, said Heather Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking. She did not say how much the state paid a private developer to create the site.

Richard Varn, president of a technology consulting firm in Des Moines and Iowa’s former chief information officer, said consumer rights groups and educational institutions offering “family and consumer sciences” curricula have information similar to that on the Pennsylvania site, but the state appears to be a trendsetter.

“I think the unique thing here is that they have amalgamated this … disparately available information, brought it together and refined it to be more in tune with the needs of users,” said Mr. Varn, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for Digital Government, a national research institute in Folsom, Calif.

The Pennsylvania site debuted Wednesday with 121 community-based organizations, including Penn State Cooperative extension offices. Participating organizations are required to sign a pledge saying they will put the needs of Pennsylvanians ahead of their own commercial interests, Ms. Tyler said.

“We wanted to start in a place where we knew folks were safe,” she said. “What we would like to see is to have every financial education program in our state included in the database,” including those from banks, although none has signed up so far.

The site is maintained by the Pennsylvania Office of Financial Education, which was created by Gov. Edward G. Rendell in 2004 with a task force for working families that conducted 24 round-table discussions statewide to find out what financial information the public wanted.

Participants wanted help making sound financial decisions and avoiding common pitfalls, Ms. Tyler said. Responses were broken down into three main requests:

• Get the information into public schools where children can learn the basics at any early age.

• Make the information unbiased, without sales pitches.

• Connect resources to the people interested in them. For instance, make sure residents are aware when classes are offered in their area.

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