NGPF Announces National Winners of 3rd Annual PAYBACK Challenge Essay Contest

Jan 13, 2020
Personal Finance, Contest Previous, Paying for College

PALO ALTO, California, January 14, 2020 - Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), a non-profit committed to ensuring that ALL students leave high school with the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly complex financial world, is pleased to recognize 10 students as National Grand Prize winners in their third annual PAYBACK Challenge Essay Contest.

Congratulations to the following students who will receive a $5,000 award from NGPF to be used for educational purposes:

  • Abigail Stackle of Trinity High School (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania)
  • Ali Hussein of Winooski High School (Winooski, Vermont)
  • Asher Spain of James I O'Neill High School (Highland Falls, New York)
  • Chloe Malagar of Cousino Senior High School (Warren, Michigan)
  • Kathleen Hutchinson of Deer Isle - Stonington High School (Deer Isle, Maine)
  • Leslie Henriquez of Central Falls High School (Central Falls, Rhode Island)
  • Marcus Bolton of Interlake High School (Bellevue, Washington)
  • Ty'Rianna Washington of Rapides High School (Lecompte, Louisiana)
  • Virginia Girling of Jackson Hole High School (Jackson Hole, Wyoming)
  • Vivian Hua of Mustang High School (Mustang, Oklahoma)

Over 900 students from all across the United States submitted essays earlier last fall. After playing the award-winning college finance game, PAYBACK, students wrote a 250-word essay answering one of these questions:

Write a letter to your future self that you will open after your freshman year of college, reminding you of the key skills you will need to thrive during your college years.


How could you use the online game, PAYBACK, to have a conversation with your parent/guardian about paying for college?

“Over 200,000 students played PAYBACK during the contest period,” noted NGPF Co-Founder, Tim Ranzetta. “It was great to see the impact this game had on students’ attitudes and actions as they decide on their educational path after high school. Thanks to the educators who brought PAYBACK to their classrooms and facilitated the amazing conversations that followed. With student debt at record levels, these conversations are more critical than ever."


Essay excerpts from each of the National Winners:

"First of all, get a job. I know it seems overwhelming, but you need to start preparing for the real world, so get to work! Make sure you work a maximum of fifteen hours per week. I know the extra cash will be tempting, especially as textbook costs begin increasing. Unfortunately, those extra hours would be detrimental, as they would reduce your focus on school and your happiness. This is college, have some fun!"

–Abigail Stackle of Trinity High School (PA)


"In order to succeed in college, you will need to develop three important life skills: time management, social skills, and most importantly, good financial decision making. If you don't want to be riddled with a depressing amount of student loan debt, then you should always be thinking of how you can save money. Whether the choice is for textbooks, food or dorms, weigh your options so you choose the one which is best."

–Ali Hussein of Winooski High School (VT)


"You’ve been waiting for this for a while

Remember there is no free trial.

You gotta make sure your head is screwed on tight

So that this time, the first time, you can get it right.

Make sure to study right and study hard

Because soon, you’ll have to pay off your credit card

Everything has a cost: grades, books, friends

Ensure they aren’t worthless, or you’ll come to an end"

–Asher Spain of James I O'Neill High School (NY)


"I turn to my parents.“Okay,” I say, “I know this sounds stupid, but let’s play a game.” I tell them all about PAYBACK, and how it provides real world situations regarding student debt and how to repay the loans... I explain the endless money-saving options to my parents, and we pick our chins up. Suddenly, the numbers do not hit like bullets anymore."

-Chloe Malagar of Cousino Senior High School (MI) 


"You have made it through your first year of college. Way to go! You’re probably pretty excited to come back home, but you better be working while you’re here. Three months might not seem like a lot of time to make money, but you won’t regret it when you get to treat yourself to Kraft mac and cheese rather than ramen."

–Kathleen Hutchinson of Deer Isle - Stonington High School (ME)


"As a result of playing PAYBACK, I was able to teach my parents the importance of balancing happiness, focus, connections and debt. PAYBACK was more than a gateway into a financial conversation but conversations that will set up the rest of my life."

–Leslie Henriquez of Central Falls High School (RI)


"The game PAYBACK exposed my parents to the harsh reality of paying for education, and they are now eager to learn more. Thankfully, I can discuss the topic knowing they've been informed about the cost involved."

–Marcus Bolton of Interlake High School (WA)


"The best thing you can do to help ensure success is to reduce your debt in college so you don’t start“adulting” with huge bills to pay! Your high school experiences prepared you for college life. Trust in yourself and know that everything will turn out how it’s supposed to be. Remember what John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

–Ty'Rianna Washington of Rapides High School (LA)


"One last aspect to making it through college with ease is to skillfully manage your money. This means employing self-control. In other words, continuing past the candy aisle in Kmart...(you have an addiction). Also, keep in mind delayed gratification always triumphs instant gratification; money only grows on a tree if you allow it time to develop."

–Virginia Girling of Jackson Hole High School (WY)


"Key 2, SAVE. Put your money to mainly necessities more so than your wants. More saved now, less debt later on. Lastly, Key 3, HAPPINESS. With the stresses of college work, remember to watch your mental health and take breaks. It’s okay to have fun every once in a while! College is a part of your path to success but should not be a form of torture. Remember the Key 3s and I promise that you’ll look back and thank me later."

-Vivian Hua of Mustang High School (OK)


PAYBACK received a Webby Award for best Social Impact game and best Educational Game and was featured in the New York Times. It is a free game available at

About Next Gen Personal Finance

Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), has become the "one-stop shop" for more than 25,000 financial educators looking for high-quality, engaging curriculum to equip students with the financial skills they need to thrive in their future. NGPF now reaches over sixty five percent (65%) of U.S. high school students who attend a school where a teacher is using their curriculum. NGPF has been recognized by Common Sense Education as a “Top Website for Teachers to Find Lesson Plans.”

About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.