Lewiston newlywed crunching numbers in national online finance competition

Seth Poplaski, 25, market manager for Maine Family Federal Credit Union, is one of five participants in the Web-only challenge, &quotSo You Think You Can Finance," sponsored by a company called NerdWallet. Contestants answer financial challenges each week, and are competing for $1,000 and two free financial-planning sessions.
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal
Seth Poplaski, 25, market manager for Maine Family Federal Credit Union, is one of five participants in the Web-only challenge, "So You Think You Can Finance," sponsored by a company called NerdWallet. Contestants answer financial challenges each week, and are competing for $1,000 and two free financial-planning sessions.
Posted Sept. 13, 2012, at 8:21 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Twenty-five-year-old Seth Poplaski had never figured out his net worth.

Assets (a closet of clothes, new kitchen appliances, one MacBook Pro) minus debts (college, college, college).

Drumroll.

Negative $21,154.

“I knew it was going to be bad,” Poplaski said. “I knew I wasn’t worth anything.”

Jarring, he said, but surmountable. He has a five-year-plan — for a home, a baby, no college debt.

Poplaski is one of five contestants on “So You Think You Can Finance,” a national online competition that’s trying to have fun with bills, retirement and finances.

The monthlong contest began Sept. 3. The twentysomethings are competing for $1,000 and free financial-planning sessions.

A newlywed who moved to Lewiston from Bangor a few months ago, Poplaski is the marketing director at Maine Family Federal Credit Union. He graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in broadcast journalism in 2009. His salary is $40,000. He counts $41,000 in college debt, not all of it his.

“When you get married, it’s not just that person you’re taking; you’re taking their debt as well,” Poplaski said.

Figuring out net worth was the contestants’ week-one challenge. It’s all posted online. Baring all hasn’t been too difficult, Poplaski said. If it helps or inspires someone else, “at the risk of people knowing how much I’m not worth or what my salary is, so be it.”

San Fransico-based NerdWallet is behind the contest.

Shiyan Koh, vice president of personal financial management, said NerdWallet started as a credit card comparison site to “demystify credit cards” and their fine print. It moved into comparing banks, then credit unions, then six months ago waded into larger financial questions: How does someone plan for a house, a child, retirement?

“We can’t just go out and index a bunch of information and ta-da, the answer,” she said.

The site needed real live young people with real live financial situations. “So You Think You Can Finance” was born to help start those conversations.

Nearly 200 18- to 25-year-olds applied to be part of the first-time competition. The five chosen represent a range of experiences: the newlywed, the one eyeing law school, the college grad with $200,000 in debt.

“People have a really weird relationship with their money,” Koh said. “It’s hard to talk about; it stresses people out.”

She added, “We think personal fitness and personal finance are very analogous. Being healthy and having a great set of finances makes you able to do the things you want to do: travel, buy a house, have children. Not thinking about it or being scared of it doesn’t help anyone.”

Contest questions are posed each week and contestants’ responses are posted online Friday. Judges grade each answer. Poplaski won the first challenge.

The winner of “So You Think You Can Finance” will be based half on scores and half on a public vote. Voting runs from Oct. 1 to 15. The winner will be announced Oct. 22.

If he wins, Poplaski said he would put the money toward a small car loan.

“Vote for who you enjoy most,” he said. “It’s always nice to vote for the local boy, even if I’m a recently local boy.”

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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