She Was Only 16, But The Creditors Didn't Care

Tampa Tribune, The (FL)
November 4, 2007
She can't even drive without adult supervision. But Amanda Leskody, 16, is already in debt.
Creditors are already stuffing the Seffner teen's mailbox with collection notices. They all stem from returned checks of $8 and $15 to Armwood High School and a $78.07 check to Wal-Mart.
"I'm screwed," Leskody said. "I know the majority of it is all my fault. All those charges for the same check and stuff. I didn't know."
After visiting a local Bank of America branch a few times to cash the paychecks from her after-school job, Leskody opened a CampusEdge checking account. This type of account is for customers who are 16 or older and are enrolled in school. They receive free checking, an ATM-debit card and online banking.
Leskody admitted she tapped the ATM frequently and wrote checks without checking her balance. She said she never learned about money management. And she didn't take seriously the letters from creditors who wanted their money after the checks bounced.
"I tried working more, tried getting more money. But that didn't work out," Leskody said.
That original debt of $101.07 has grown to $402.47 because of overdraft and insufficient-fund fees. She wasn't forced to face financial reality until Melody Green, her grandmother (and legal guardian), found the collection notices in the car.
"I can't understand how they can do that to a 16-year-old without notifying an adult. And all the times she was getting letters from the bank, nothing came here for us. I was totally surprised," Green said.
Bank of America cited privacy policies when Green visited the branch alone to discuss her granddaughter's account. She blames Leskody and the bank for the problem.
"I think it was irresponsible of the bank, and they've let her get to a situation where she could ruin her credit," Green said.
Bank of America spokeswoman Britney Sheehan said she couldn't discuss the particulars of Leskody's situation because of customer privacy reasons. But Sheehan said every CampusEdge customer receives a handbook on financial literacy when he opens an account, and the bank works with student customers experiencing issues such as Leskody's.
Grades and proms are the priorities for most high school students, not rent, utilities and car payments - which are all affected by a person's credit. Who bears the responsibility of teaching someone the ins and outs of money management is debatable. But, clearly, learning the importance of balancing accounts, saving money and budgeting can benefit everyone. So can knowing when to ask for help before you fall into a financial hole you can't dig out of.
Green is using this experience to teach Leskody these lessons now. She refuses to bail out her granddaughter, instead forcing her to turn over her paychecks, which Green uses to pay down Leskody's debt.
"It's a shame. It really is a shame. Not a good lesson to learn this way," Green said.
If you have a consumer question, call the help line at 1-800-338-0808 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays.