What is credit?  What is debt?

“Once I was the credit to my credit card. Spent what I hadn’t got, wasn’t hard.”

— Peter Gabriel, Waiting for the Big One.

While we have previously discussed money, an asset, here we focus on the liability side of the balance sheet.

Many of the words to describe borrowing have been distorted by marketing and there is widespread confusion about the words debit and credit. Let’s clarify the concepts and agree on some usage of the words debit, credit, and debt. (Note that these words have multiple meanings in finance. While they are the same words and are connected to related concepts, when talking about transactions from an individual’s perspective, they do not have the same meaning as debits and credits do in accounting).

Debit vs. Credit

When you take money directly from your checking account that is a debit.  When you buy something with a promise to pay soon, that is buying on credit. By credit, we generally mean a purchase without immediate payment, but that full payment is expected soon.  For example, many business-to-business transactions have terms like “net 30.”  That means you pay the bill within 30 days.  While informal store credit was fairly common for retail purchases 25 to 50 years ago, it has now been largely replaced by “credit cards.” In some small towns and some city bodegas, the clerk might still be willing to keep a tab on your purchases that you pay about once a month.

Whether you pay with cash, check, debit card, or credit card, from a net worth standpoint you are in the same position.  You have either reduced your cash asset, or you have incurred a liability.

Once a payment is no longer expected to be paid in the short term it becomes a debt. If you keep a balance on your credit card, you should probably call it a “debt card” but it is pretty clear why that may not be the best name for marketing purposes.

Types of Debt

Generally, debts are either secured or unsecured and recourse or non-recourse. Secured debt means that if payments are not made, the lender has the right to take the asset that is tied to the loan. The asset is called the “collateral” for the loan. An unsecured debt means that there is no particular asset tied to the debt. Recourse means the lender has the right to demand payment from your personal assets. Non-recourse means that they cannot seek repayment from you personally.

  • Mortgages (loans to purchase a home) and auto loans are examples of secured debt with recourse. If you do not make payments the lender can take your home and they can also make a claim on your other assets if the value of the “collateral” is not sufficient. In some cases, mortgages are non-recourse, and the lender cannot make a claim on your other assets or income.
  • Margin on securities purchases is another form of secured debt. If the value of your portfolio falls, the broker will sell assets to reduce the debt to the required level.  [In financial markets, a form of margin are repurchase agreements.  With a repurchase agreement an owner of a security, sells the security today and agrees to buy it back later. The original owner of the security in essence has borrowed money and the other party has made a short-term secured loan. Such repurchase agreements “called repos” make up a substantial part of the funding of fixed-income capital markets.]
  • Credit cards are generally non-secured, but do have recourse. There is no particular asset or collateral, but the lender can make a claim on your personal assets. A variant on the credit card is a secured credit card, where the borrower deposits money with the bank or credit card company and their credit is limited to the deposit.
  • What about an unsecured, non-recourse loan? It would generally be difficult to get such a loan from a financial institution, however, many loans from friends and family are exactly of this type. The lender hopes that you will pay the money back, but they are not likely to seize assets or take you to court for payment. However, non-payment of such debts often leads to family conflict and hard feelings on both sides that can last decades.

Not all debts involve an exchange of money. Providing a guaranty for someone else’s debt makes it your debt. If the borrower is unable to pay, you will be on the hook. Even though you didn’t provide any money to the borrower, providing a guaranty has the same risk as making a loan to the person who did take out the loan.

Getting out of debt.

Of course, the best way to get out of debt is to make the necessary payments. Bankruptcy is another way out, but it comes with significant consequences. For most loans, if you declare bankruptcy, after whatever debts can be satisfied from your assets are paid, you have no further obligation to pay. One exception to this is student loans, which are not discharged in bankruptcy. However, if you declare bankruptcy, the court will work to satisfy as many creditors as possible by taking money from your bank account and selling your assets. It will also be much more difficult to borrow money for five to seven years.

Debt and Interest

Most debts will require payment of interest, generally monthly. The interest rate will reflect the risk of the transaction to the lender. Secured loans tend to have lower rates and unsecured loans have higher rates. The amount of time allowed to pay off the loan also affects the rate, with longer times to pay generally having higher interest rates. The creditworthiness of the borrower, as reflected in their credit score also affects loan interest rates. Borrowers with strong histories of making loan payments generally have higher credit scores and pay lower rates on their loans. Borrowers without credit scores or with very low credit scores may have limited options for borrowing and may pay very high interest rates or face other fees to borrow.


In summary, we would recommend the use of the term debit, to refer to a transaction that deducts from your checking account immediately. Credit should refer to transactions where you do not pay immediately but are expected to make full payment generally in less than a month. Any longer-term obligation to make a payment, whether for a purchase or for a loan, should be considered debt. Debt can be recourse, non-recourse, and secured or unsecured. Interest costs are largely tied to the general level of interest rates in the economy and to the risk to the lender of non-payment. Other than student loans, most debts can be reduced or discharged in bankruptcy, but with considerable consequences. Understanding the nature of debt transactions can help people achieve better financial outcomes.

With a rapidly changing financial system, even a simple question like, ‘what is money?’ can become complex. With new financial apps and rise and fall of various flavors of digital currency, it seems that anything or maybe everything could be money.

Abstractly, one can think of money as a medium that stores value that is readily accepted as payment for products, services, or other items of value.  With this definition, almost anything could be considered money, and throughout history and around the world, almost everything has been a form of money.  Gold, silver, sheep, goats, grain, shells, and unfortunately, people.

Such a broad approach to thinking about money may lead to confusion. A better approach might be to understand the role of various potential candidates for money in our current financial system and how they are related to each other.

In the US there are only two basic forms of money, as defined by the Federal Reserve. These are physical currency (coins and bills, issued by the US Government) and digitally recorded deposits kept at regulated banks. With a few minor exceptions that’s it. If these are the only things that are money, what is everything else?

We can break various forms of money-like things into three categories:
Commodities, IOUs (I-Owe-You’s), and Payment Systems. Most things that we might think of as money fall into one or more of these three categories.


For much of financial history, money was things, physical things. The best type of things for commercial transactions are things that have an agreed upon value, are easily transportable, and difficult to counterfeit. The classic commodity of this sort is gold, and even until 1971, gold was the basis for the international monetary system and for many years the US had paper certificates that could be converted into gold. Silver is another commodity that has been used to back currencies and as a basis for trade (Growing up I had a silver certificate that I may still have stored in a closet somewhere in my house). However, any commodity (any “thing”) that people are willing to use to denominate transactions is a potential form of money.

While physical commodities may have certain advantages as a means of exchange, they face severe limitations relative to the basic forms of money: currency and bank deposits. Perhaps the most significant disadvantage is the need to store and transfer commodities. For physical commodities such as gold or goats, the difficulty of storage and transfer may be obvious (imagine bringing goats to the mall).

IOUs (“I Owe You”)

Another form of a money-like instrument is an IOU, that is a promise to make a future payment.  Before the widespread use of credit cards and in many small towns, people who went to a store often didn’t pay when they left with merchandise, rather the store would keep track of the amount owed. In some cases, the buyer would sign a small note or “chit” stating the amount owed.  Merchants might even exchange these IOUs as a form of payment. Banks also issue IOUs in various forms such as cashier’s checks, Certificates of Deposit and Letters of Credit, all of which can be used to facilitate transactions. IOUs can also be from companies and governments. A major advance in the monetary system was establishing deposit insurance, so that specific IOUs (records of deposits) created by banks are backed by the US government, substantially reducing the risk of keeping your money at a bank.

In some cases, non-bank IOUs, promises that can be exchanged for cash on demand or mature within short periods of time can also be a form of money when held by regulated money market funds or on the balance sheet of corporations. (This was the exception to the two types of money described above.) Chips at a casino or Dave and Busters are also IOUs, but most people don’t consider them to be money as they can only be exchanged at one location.

Payment Systems

Many of the other things that we consider to be money are not money, but rather are “payment systems.”  If the primary forms of money are currency and bank deposits, how can you use money for a purchase?  ATMs, or bank tellers, provide a way to convert money in bank accounts to cash, and the other way around.  Currency can be exchanged in real time for a transaction. At some point, however, the amount of cash required can be prohibitive to carry around: Would you like to buy a car with a stack of $20 dollar bills? Would you like to deliver your rent, in cash, to your landlord each month?

As a result, there are several ways to transfer money from your bank account to the seller.  Traditionally, checks, which are fundamentally a physical means of transfer of money from one checking account to another, were a widely used form of payment. However, the check itself is not money, rather it is a way of transferring money from one account to another.  However, these days the use of checks is declining rapidly and being replaced by electronic means of transfer. For example, many people use some form of bill payment app from their bank.  While this may seem to be an electronic transfer system, some electronic bill payments are just checks in disguise. In some cases, when you enter a bill to be paid, the bank still sends a check.

Other forms of payment as ACH and wire transfers are electronic transfers of money, without the need to deliver physical checks from one party to another. The entire transfer takes place electronically without the need to create a physical check as an intermediary.

There has also been substantial growth in other forms of payment including Debit Cards, Credit Cards, Digital Wallets, and other digital payment systems such as Venmo and Paypal.  Each of these provides another way of accessing the money you hold in your bank account.  Debit cards and Venmo take money directly from your bank account. Credit cards create a temporary IOU that you can pay off monthly, or if you don’t make the full payment convert into revolving debt, generally with very high interest charges. Digital wallets are another way of using a credit cards, with the credit card data being delivered by your phone rather than from a plastic card or a chip imbedded in the card.  Despite the fancy exterior, most of these innovations still utilize checking accounts for the underlying storage of money.

What about Crypto?

If Cryptocurrencies aren’t money; what are they.  While various forms of cryptocurrency have money-like features, they are best thought of as digital commodities. While they are not physical, they still represent an item in limited supply that people can agree to use as a basis for transactions. While storage and transfer are always issues for physical commodities, for digital commodities, crypto assets were supposedly designed to eliminate these problems.  However due to the complexity of operating directly in crypto currencies many people rely on intermediaries to transact and store their crypto assets. Unfortunately, as we have seen, it is possible these entities may be incompetent or corrupt, leading to losses of assets and confidence.

Another characteristic of a good candidate for money is that it has “unit value.” Unit value means that the “price” of something should only change if the cost of the inputs (including profits) change. Thus, anything that changes value on its own, like a commodity, may be a poor choice for money. Since Crypto currency prices vary wildly; they are speculative assets, and not good candidates for money. (Stable coins have been developed to address this issue, but maintaining stability creates other problems.) Although many things have been used as a basis for exchange, governments have been using coinage as a standard of value since ancient times. Throughout history, societies have recognized that using commodities as money can create havoc, and that government issued currencies provide greater value to trade and government management of the economy.

Commodities often become used as currency when governments fail or when they destabilize their own currencies through excessive spending or excessive printing of currency.  The current popularity of crypto may be related to the economic disruptions of 2007 and 2008 and a loss of confidence in the banking system.

Crypto assets, therefore, are best thought of as crypto-commodities and should be evaluated and utilized in much the same way as other commodities. They may be a part of a portfolio, but they are not income producing assets and their value may fluctuate widely. They may provide a hedge against certain economic outcomes, but the relationships may be difficult to assess. In addition, extreme care is required in choosing how to store and transact in digital commodities.

Money, money substitutes, and payment systems are likely to continue to evolve rapidly. This creates the risks for individuals, who may face false claims and failed innovations. While skepticism about government may be warranted, especially in underserved communities, the alternatives to government regulated financial entities do not have a good track record, and government regulation is generally a requirement to prevent misuse of customer assets and protection against predatory practices. Best practice, in a period of rapid change, may be to keep most money in traditional bank accounts and be cautious about the use of new payment systems until they are widely-used and a regulatory regime has been established and tested.

Money and FiCycle

Money plays an important role in the FiCycle Math curriculum. First there is an assumed role, which we do not state explicitly. That is, all transactions in our workbook, spreadsheets and projects are denominated in dollars and that transactions, other than a few exceptions, will use money as the means for exchange. We don’t say if payment is made with coins, bills, by check or with an App, but we assume that students know how to purchase something or send money to another person using money.

Second, we focus extensively on distinguishing cash from wealth.  Cash, which can refer to currency either as bills or coins, or money held in a checking account, is one aspect of wealth. But wealth also includes other assets and is reduced by debts. Understanding the role of wealth in financial transactions is a central theme of FiCycle.

Third, even while focusing on wealth, access to money is essential for paying bills and lack of money can lead to severe financial consequences, even if a person has other forms of wealth. Budgeting can be viewed as a process for making sure that you have sufficient cash (that is access to money) to make necessary payments.



M1 consists of (1) currency outside the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve Banks, and the vaults of depository institutions; (2) demand deposits at commercial banks (excluding those amounts held by depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign banks and official institutions) less cash items in the process of collection and Federal Reserve float; and (3) other liquid deposits, consisting of other checkable deposits (or OCDs, which comprise negotiable order of withdrawal, or NOW, and automatic transfer service, or ATS, accounts at depository institutions, share draft accounts at credit unions, and demand deposits at thrift institutions) and savings deposits (including money market deposit accounts).

The Fed – Developments in Noncash Payments for 2019 and 2020: Findings from the Federal Reserve Payments Study

Building and strengthening the community is central to the mission of the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood (the Y), New York. Helping young people learn skills and deepen knowledge in areas that will prepare them for the future is an essential piece of that work. FiCycle has partnered with the organization to bring financial literacy information to middle and high school students that are part of several Y programs.

The YM&YWHA works with approximately 1,000 14-24-year-olds in their summer programs and hundreds of other students throughout the school year.

We spoke with Martin Yafe, Chief Program Officer at the Y, and with Monalisa Tolbert, their Managing Director of External Youth Programs, to find out more about the Y and the impact that FiCycle’s involvement had on their students.

Question: Tell us a little about the YM&YWHA, the community it supports, and the programs it develops and facilitates? 

Monalisa:   The Y has worked in this community since 1917 – it’s a real resource and pillar. I oversee all our external programs, such as our youth employment programs for which we partner with the City both during the summer and the school year. The summer program (Summer Youth Employment Program) places over 800 14-24-year-olds in paid internships with wraparound instruction on workplace skills. We also partner with the City to run after school programs at nearby middle and high schools, including a middle school where 100 percent of students are recent immigrants from Central and South America. An important piece of our afterschool programs is bringing in professionals to talk about their careers and life experiences. We call these “Pride Talks,” and this is where FiCycle joined us to introduce students to the idea of wealth, savings, and how small choices can have a big impact.

Martin:  The work we do with students afterschool is part of the Y’s whole mindset where we believe that in order to build community, we need to be a community. We want to ensure that every young person we engage with develops skills and learns of the range of resources and opportunities available to them. Bringing FiCycle in was an excellent example of how we try to expand students’ worldview and enhance their career toolkits.

Question: Why was financial literacy vital for you to build into your programs? 

Martin:  One of the Y’s central goals is to prepare young people for the future. Because many of the students we work with come from families who are new to the United States, they don’t necessarily know the different ways they can save money or when and how they should invest their money in themselves, so having these types of direct conversations is very empowering. Then the students are encouraged to give back to their community by sharing information with their families and beyond.

Q: How did the students react to the FiCycle presentations?

 Monalisa: Since a focus on financial literacy is new to them, the middle school and high school kids were very curious about it. The FiCycle presentations were super-engaging, with lots of time for questions. Students loved that they could consider what they are going to do with their money. When they started to think about it in terms of real-life situations, that’s when it really clicked. For example, students could really relate to the discussion of debit cards and their fees. Before the lesson, they didn’t realize that services charges vary and that all those $1.25 charges can really add up! Now they are more mindful of where they’re taking their money out. And they also realized that just because they have a debit card doesn’t mean they should use it everywhere because of overdrafts and how much they cost.

Q: Since the community is a focus of your programs, do you think the students brought this information into their communities somehow?

Monalisa:  In speaking with them after the FiCycle presentations, it was clear they understood the concept of “living from paycheck to paycheck.” You may want those $300 sneakers, but there are other things you need to consider. Many of our students are particularly mindful of their money because they help their parents out. So, as we are assisting students in learning financial literacy, they are taking it home and talking about it with their parents. Many of these parents come from different countries, so they don’t know about things like balancing a checkbook or determining which is a better bank for your money. Our students feel better equipped to help their parents with these issues.

Q: Do you see the FiCycle program continuing and evolving at the YM&YWHA?

Martin: Yes. We want to continue the program and see how this partnership can evolve. New students will be introduced to these concepts, and returning students can build on their knowledge. We’d also like to see the program grow into something that can help adults, especially parents who have recently moved to the United States and adults transitioning to new opportunities in the workforce. Financial literacy is central to building a secure life. We want to help community members understand how money can work for them and really flourish, and we know the partnership with FiCycle can help us do that.

To learn more about the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood, New York, visit: https://ywhi.org/ or follow on Twitter: @YWashHts


As we celebrate Financial Literacy Month this April, we are revisiting one of the teachers from our Q&A interview series last year who continues to experience success with the FiCycle curriculum. We checked in with Erik Scott, a math teacher at Cache High School in Oklahoma. Erik teaches Statistics and Pre-Calculus to 11th and 12th graders and FiCycle Math which is considered Algebra 3 in the school’s math curriculum. Our conversation focused on how this school year has been impacted due to the pandemic. And in the spirit of Financial Literacy Month, we dove into how students view the importance of planning for a secure financial future – given some of the outcomes of the pandemic, like inflation and the cost of everyday items sky-rocketing.  

We also wanted to get an update on how Erik is evolving and expanding the use of the FiCycle curriculum. So let’s start there. 

Question: Are there any ways you have evolved the way you have used FiCycle this school year?  

Erik: This year, we incorporated our Precalculus textbook into our FiCycle work. The book gave me a repository, if you will, of some additional problems. The FiCycle Curriculum already has a fair number of examples coupled with the properties involving logs and natural logs. I then take that information and couple it with a video presentation that I enjoy about the description of logarithms. Then I’ll move it into some additional problems from my Precalculus book. Our counselors also encourage students to take the FiCycle / Algebra 3 class. I’ll have students in my Algebra 3 class because it is an elective. They are a pool of students that have completed their required math courses to get their high school diploma. But our counselor always encourages that if these students are going into a technical school, whether it’s a technology education curriculum in their town, located in another part of the state, or going on to college, they should take another math class. And the nice thing about FiCycle is it is that other math class! It fits the requirement that the kids need to achieve their financial education, but it also keeps them fluent in the math that they’ve learned and can apply new math skills.  

Q: Remind me how your school came about using the FiCycle curriculum? I believe your community drove it. 

Erik: Yes, in fact, it was a local business person that manages a bank that actually introduced our principal, Mrs. Christie Taylor, to FiCycle. And that local business person has reached out to me, and we’re looking to have some people, possibly from FiCycle, for our next student council state symposium that we are hosting next year. So, we’re looking forward to that. 

Q: Can you share some examples of how FiCycle has made an impact on individual students and how they view their future?

ErikYes. With the FiCycle curriculum, a part that I enjoy is having the avenue to introduce students to the real-world FiCycle life cycle that we go through. One example is a student who would not necessarily have taken additional math classes; however, after being in my FiCycle class for a couple of months, she said, “You know, I really enjoy dealing with finances. I’m actually interested in maybe becoming an accountant.” The FiCycle curriculum is unique in that there’s a presentation of the math part, formulas, and how these formulas are derived. And then, there are three to four case studies with people, maybe new business owners or college students. So, the case study can put a student in the shoes of an accountant. Seeing this student’s interest in accounting, I searched the internet and found out what accounting career options are available locally and in the state of Oklahoma. I then researched what it would entail for her to pursue earning a degree in accounting and becoming a certified public accountant (CPA). I shared this information with her and more, even letting her know about an accounting degree at our local university in Lawton.  

Another exciting story is about a student I had two years ago in a geometry class. He’s really into the arts, and he’s in the band. He was not too revved up about the geometry curriculum. Now that I’ve got him in FiCycle as a senior, I noticed that he does well on our check for understanding modules at the end of each of the topics – even though it seems like he’s not even paying attention. As we got into the future value present value formulas to where we’re dealing with letting interest do its work on our money and growing our wealth without even doing anything to it, he started asking questions and really getting interested in finances. He was curious as we talked about careers and the ability to earn income, the importance of maintaining good credit and that earning potential is essential as lending institutions want to see proof that you can make monthly payments. 

Q: Is there anything uniquely exciting in how students react to the FiCycle curriculum versus other classes?  

Erik: Well, interestingly enough, they approach it as real thinkers. And maybe if they’re not initially when we get into the curriculum and we go through these case studies, it engages them in a way that they’re starting to think about, “well, that could actually be me!” As we were working on some case studies with our future value formulas, I had a student diverge from the workbook, and he started to work in his notebook with his own variables in his own life and what he wants to pursue in the next step after high school. This is the type of behavior that happens in this class. 

As the fourth quarter approaches, all teachers know the difficulty of keeping students’ attention after spring break. Testing out personal finance math before full use next year can address this issue. As teachers look towards curriculum planning during the summer and students’ attention wanes, right now might be the perfect time to try out one of our free lessons. 

Making it to June

First, students need exciting content during this time of the year to get them to June. It can be a stressful time for students with AP exams, big school activities, spring sports, and more. The excitement for summer combined with these stressful milestones can often lead to students just ‘trying to get through’ with the last couple of weeks before school ends. How do we combat this? By making math a class that excites them and encourages them to use the mathematics they’ve been learning all year in an engaging and challenging way.

“It’s one of the few math classes that address real-world situations and problems,” said Seckoumar, a student in the course who is on the AP math track who used the FiCyle curriculum at New York City Museum School. “It makes you more aware of financial decisions you’ll have to make in the future and which ones can be helpful and harmful to your credit and your finances as you move forward.” Students enjoy FiCycle because it challenges them, and the novelty of a new approach will give students something to look forward to in the classroom. 

Preparing for next year’s instruction

Second, buying FiCycle now will give your teachers some time to feel comfortable with the curriculum. If you have been thinking of adding FiCycle to your math department, now is the perfect time for teachers to engage in professional development using our curriculum. One worry we have faced in implementing FiCycle is that teachers feel they have to become personal finance gurus to teach it to their students. However, the way we shape our curriculum, hanging personal finance on the math, means that teachers can easily plug and play our curriculum into their lesson plans with relative ease. For those worried about putting stress on their teachers to learn a curriculum, now is the perfect time to establish your relationship with us. We have your back. 

“I went to a professional development session right before our semester started. I got the workbook, and I sat around a table with Phil Dituri, FiCycle’s Director of Education, and a couple other teachers. We did problems and we talked about it. It was definitely a ‘hit the ground running’ kind of a semester, but it was a very successful pilot, based on the user-friendliness of the materials, as well as how interested the students were,” said high school math teacher Eva Hachikian concerning the transition of bringing in FiCycle. We are different from other curriculum writers because when you invest in us, we invest in you. Your teachers’ and students’ success is our paramount interest, and we will provide you with all the resources at our disposal to ensure that FiCycle changes your math education for the better. 

Free Lessons Make Learning FiCycle Risk-Free

Why is now a perfect time to try out the FiCycle math curriculum? Because it can have a massive impact on your students at this crucial time in their education, and any school or classroom can start today with the full course and associated resources for free. Learn how we can revolutionize your post-spring break plans and next year’s math curriculum today. Contact Us.

With financial education courses becoming more commonplace across the country, schools and teachers see the need for a financial math class in their school curriculum. However, educators are now finding that what they once used for financial literacy in their schools no longer fits their needs. On our trip to New Orleans for the NCTM 2022 conference, we enjoyed speaking to several educators aiming to tie personal finance to math education. Many of these educators are looking for a new approach to financial mathematics because their first attempts have not proven successful. For this blog, we wanted to codify some of the conversations and explore how they tie into our current approach to financial mathematics education. 

A Balanced Approach

One theme we noticed at NCTM was the need for a curriculum that balanced mathematics and personal finance. For some educators, their school tried a financial literacy curriculum, but it didn’t have enough math. Personal finance-focused curricula serve the need to educate students on financial literacy, but put unwarranted pressure on math educators to become solely personal finance instructors. Or, these curricula completely leave the mathematics of finance out of the equation, living in different departments in a school such as social studies or technology. 

On the contrary, some educators had instituted a heavily math-focused curriculum, but limited their ability to teach the essentials of personal finance. What we found in both cases was a need for educators to use their professional skills in math education and provide financial life skills that students will feel comfortable using when it appears in their lives. We aim in everything we do to strike at the middle ground, laying all of the groundwork for math educators to hang instruction on math, with finance to enrich the value to students. 

Student Engagement

Another topic we found presenting itself was student engagement. In the virtual or physical classroom, teachers are having difficulty keeping their students’ attention while providing mathematically rigorous instruction. Looking to find a balance between engagement and rigor, we shared how our project-based learning initiatives give students something to be excited about while learning their required math subjects. 

An interesting case for balancing math education and engagement was an educator who expressed an issue many schools face: If students only have to take three years of math, how do we engage seniors to take an additional math class? We expressed the ability to prepare seniors for real-life financial situations using our curriculum. Using the building blocks they formed over the first three years of high school, FiCycle can reinforce their early education and provide a new financial literacy element young adults will shortly face in the form of loans, budgets, investment, and more. 

Current Events

Finally, a discussion of current events in financial math came from NCTM attendees we spoke to. Possibly the most functional aspect of our curriculum, educators were interested in combining their education with the financial zeitgeist. One educator’s students asked about the Gamestop stock situation when it was in the news. The teacher didn’t know what to tell the class from a mathematical perspective as it isn’t regularly taught.

So, how do we give teachers the ability to make a multi-functional lesson any day of the week? We make a curriculum with a professional development opportunity. Our math curriculum provides educators the ability to explain current events not only in the classes that teach our content, but also to explore the world around them in all their classes in a new and exciting way.  

After years of working primarily remote, it was a breath of fresh air to gather with math educators at NCTM earlier this month. Hearing from the folks on the ground, in the classrooms, doing the hard work of supporting our students is how we can, in turn, best support educators. For more information about our curriculum, click here.

If you’ve visited our website prior to 2022, you’ve likely noticed a change in our logo and colors. We’re thrilled to share more information about this shift in our identity, where we have come from and how we got to where we are today.

Since our conception, the main themes of our work have never changed. We are here to support your students in their understanding of the financial life cycle in making decisions about spending, borrowing and investing. We also believe in the importance of mathematics and mathematical thinking for good financial decision making. As such, FiCycle is the nickname for The Financial Life Cycle Education Corp. 

The original FiCycle logo was a stylized bicycle with the wheels labeled mathematics and finance. This logo captured the similarity between bicycle and FiCycle, and encapsulated the idea that the rider of the bicycle could control their financial direction, powered by an understanding of both math and finance. The simple geometry of the logo also recalled mathematical shapes and concepts. 

The new logo contains much the same meaning as the first, but with a different abstraction. In the new logo, the financial life cycle shows how, over the course of your life, your wealth changes as you borrower against future earnings, save for retirement and then spend your retirement savings. The mirroring of the cycles reflects the complementary nature of financial transactions.

And, of course, we should address our color change. We added green as the central color reflects wealth. The blues show that the cycle can be approach in a calmly through the use of planning and mathematics.

Our look may have changed, but our approach has not. We are still here to provide you with resources to teach the algebra of personal finance and to help your students succeed not just in their math classes, but in life.

In our Q&A interview series, we have the opportunity to hear from high school math teachers across the U.S. whose students are experiencing success with the FiCycle curriculum. You’ll hear real success stories and classroom-level insights on the ways in which integrated mathematics and personal finance opens students’ minds to new ways of thinking, and enhances their engagement and achievement. 

For the first interview in this series, we spoke with Courtney Epps, a math teacher at People’s Prep Charter School in Newark, NJ. Currently, Courtney is teaching FiCycle with 12th graders while also teaching 9th grade Algebra 1.

The interview is edited and condensed for clarity, after being recorded as part of the FiCycle Podcast

Question: As a teacher, what is your number one motivator―your true professional passion?

Courtney: What motivates me is my own love for learning and the ability to make a difference in people’s lives, whether it’s a student or a parent. It motivates me as a teacher altogether. Also, my love for mathematics plays a big part in looking at things very differently and abstractly. All of that combined motivates me to be a teacher for the rest of my life.

Q: What is your experience with the FiCycle course? Are there changes you’ve observed in your students since you began teaching it?

Courtney: I’ve been teaching the FiCycle course for the last two years, and it’s answered the question many of our students ask in math: “Why am I doing this, and when am I going to use it?”

I’ve noticed that FiCycle brings together all the mathematical concepts we’ve taught from freshman to junior year, and it puts some real life into them. I’m noticing that students aren’t just looking at those exponential functions, linear functions as just a graph anymore. They’re actually looking at it and putting context to it and saying, “How can I apply this?” I love the fact that it’s changing how my kids are looking at mathematics.

Q: Speaking of your students, are there any particular students who stand out as especially successful with the course, or as very engaged with the curriculum?

Courtney: Yes, definitely. There is a set of students that I think worked out very well. It was my IEP students or the students typically labeled as lower-performing. I noticed their outlook on mathematics completely changed, and I believe it was because we started talking about money—having this relevant discussion kind of bridges that gap from not understanding to becoming engaged. When solving a simple one-step, two-step equation, I noticed that students struggled with that. When I introduced it using finance, it was kind of like, “Oh, okay, this makes sense now. I got it.” So it’s one of those things that allows me to bridge that gap that students tend to have.

Q: Now that your students have this new perspective, is there anything as a teacher you’ve found surprising about teaching math and finance together since you started?

Courtney: It has helped me develop a better Algebra I curriculum. It has shown me different ways to include mathematics in a more conceptual way versus a procedural manner. I’m finding that, for example, when my freshman students were doing linear functions, I could relay that this was the concept of simple interest. Using that concept and applying it made my own teaching more meaningful.

It’s helping me expand on the inquiry cycle and all that good stuff. It helps me look at math completely differently. It lets me look at math in building a structure. I didn’t have any finance background, and the most I knew about my finances was my bank account. But in learning this course and the material involved, I’m responding with, “Wow, okay, this is where this math gets applied. Wow, this is where my students can apply it.” It’s helped me just expand my math vocabulary and mathematical understanding as a whole.

It also helped our English Language Learners (ELLs) because money and the concepts are universal. They were able to build their vocabulary through this, and they didn’t feel lost; they felt more involved in the class. It’s good for all students and better for teachers as well.

Q: What would be your message to other educators who haven’t yet tried this approach to teaching?

Courtney: My message to them would be to try this FiCycle program out. It’s a hands-on approach that makes math more realistic for students. It gets rid of the procedural part of mathematics. It can be used across all grade levels, whether you want to implement it on the freshman or senior level. 

It’s all transferable. It’s new and different and helps kids learn to manage their money better. You know, most of our kids are graduating high school without the knowledge of the basics. I can sit here and say at least do Unit One and see how you feel. It lays the foundation for any student, any adult.

Do this FiCycle program. I recommend it. If I could teach it on all grade levels, I would. It’s a great program.

Listen to the full interview at https://ficycle.org/podcast or get started today by downloading free lessons for your classroom. You can also contact the FiCycle team to learn more about the full curriculum.


In our Q&A interview series, we have the opportunity to hear from high school math teachers across the U.S. whose students are experiencing success with the FiCycle curriculum. You’ll hear real success stories and classroom-level insights on the ways in which integrated mathematics and personal finance opens students’ minds to new ways of thinking, and enhances their engagement and achievement. 

For the third interview in this series, we spoke with Erik Scott, a math teacher at Cache High School in Oklahoma. Erik teaches Statistics and Pre-Calculus to 11th and 12th graders as well as FiCycle Math. Erik shares his unique perspective on entering the teaching profession while providing specific takeaways from his experience with FiCycle.

The interview is edited and condensed for clarity, after being recorded as part of the FiCycle Podcast

Question: Erik, you have an interesting and unique perspective as a teacher coming to the profession as your second career. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what motivates you as a teacher?

Erik: I finished a career with the Navy as a submariner for 21 years. It was a unique community that ingrained in us that we’re on a continuous learning journey, and we always approached our occupation with a questioning attitude. It emphasized that we’re really on this staircase of continual improvement. I had a great opportunity to work with young people in the Navy, and it provided a culture centered on the fabric of learning and asking questions.

I also worked for 12 years in the commercial industry and utilities. When I finished that career, I looked forward to getting into teaching, where I could again work with young people. It’s important to me to take the lessons learned from my careers to engage with students to prepare them for the next step in their lives.

Q: You’ve had a good amount of experience with young people teaching the FiCycle course as well as other sections of mathematics. What are some of the changes you’ve observed in your students since you’ve been teaching the FiCycle course?

Erik: One thing I’ve noticed with my students is that when we get into the workbooks and curriculum of FiCycle, it establishes a foundation for them to learn about growing wealth and what that means. Right away, this curriculum places the hook for students to say, “Hey, what’s in this for me?” We have a chance to talk about real-life scenarios presented in the workbook and the curriculum, and as we progress through the year, students learn about the math that contributes to our ability to grow wealth.

The students become very proficient at understanding the math behind what contributes to wealth growth and wealth loss. So they’re able to utilize their case scenarios or case studies presented in the curriculum. They work the problems, approaching them with whether it’s a good decision or a poor decision.

With the kids working in an independent portion of the class, I put them in consensus groups to share what they’ve learned and worked out. They discuss with one another their experiences or what they would do if presented with a similar situation.

Q: When you think about your students who’ve gone through the course, is there any particular student that stands out that was especially successful or engaged with FiCycle?

Erik: From the feedback I’ve received, I think all the students have been able to go on a journey with the FiCycle curriculum. When we started with the growth of wealth in creating budgets and making decisions as trade-offs to meet a goal or objective three months into the future – one student did stand out. He really enjoyed the scenario-based lessons and always wanted to go deeper. He indicated that he wished we could go back and talk through even more case studies that explore wealth management. 

I told the student, “Hey, don’t worry, we’ve got another topic coming up, and we’re going to talk about mortgages, investing for the future or annuities, and see about those vehicles of investment.” This student happens to be helping his dad with renovating houses and flipping houses, so he’s able to see what his dad is experiencing in real life with that endeavor and learn all that goes into that experience in a formal classroom setting. He’s looking forward to working with his brother to join their dad in the further pursuit of the business.

It was interesting to me how he shared that experience and what his future will look like. He was able to utilize the FiCycle curriculum to learn a bit more about the specifics in math (for instance, the Rule of 72 and how it applies to wealth growth and the math involved). He represents one particular student whose engagement really stood out.

Q: Yes, the real-world relevance and how students can see the relation to their lives without necessarily needing to be told. It’s a natural part of what is happening in a student’s life, and they can see that connection and exactly how to use the knowledge of the course.

That’s really the essential foundation and something that helps make this a unique course by teaching mathematics and personal finance in a different way from your typical math or personal finance course.

Since the onset of teaching the FiCycle courses, is there anything you find most surprising that you didn’t necessarily expect when you started with this approach? Is there something you’ve learned as you’ve progressed?

Erik: I have noticed just how willing students are to share their personal experiences and ask questions regarding what’s happening to them in real life. In fact, I had one student who holds down a part-time job at a restaurant. Shortly into the course, he brought in his pay statement and came to me and said, “Hey, can you help me explain what these different boxes are?” We were able to talk right away about gross, net, taxes withheld, and things of that nature.

The relevance of the FiCycle course to what the students are actually living is one of the neat things that I personally enjoy. The age group I teach is on the cusp of going from living at home to stepping into the real world. That journey and the FiCycle curriculum provide me gratification. What we’re teaching here at Cache High School and presenting to the student is relevant to what they will experience in their next step in life.

Q: What would be your message to other educators who haven’t yet tried the FiCycle approach?

Erik: I would encourage math teachers to give the FiCycle curriculum a try if they have an opportunity. They will really enjoy the engagement with their students. It affords the teacher a neat opportunity to take their experiences from early on when they were students and carry it through to where they’re currently at in their lives. It gives them the ability to take what they’ve learned for the subject area in their teaching and apply it to very real-life experiences.

Teachers will find alertness and engagement as the students anticipate what’s around the bend with the next subjects presented in FiCycle. The curriculum covers a wide array of what the students will be experiencing in the very near future.

Listen to the full interview at https://ficycle.org/podcast or get started today by downloading free lessons for your classroom. You can also contact the FiCycle team to learn more about the full curriculum.