NGPF Announces National Grand Prize Winners in 2nd Annual PAYBACK Challenge

Jan 09, 2019

PALO ALTO, California, January 10, 2019 - 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 announce 12 students as the recipients of the National Grand Prize Award in their second annual PAYBACK Challenge.

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

  • Aleah Kert, Cashmere High School (Cashmere, WA)
  • Amber Holmes, Erskine Academy (South China, ME)
  • Annie Marazita, Worthington Kilbourne High School (Columbus, OH)
  • Ashley Reynolds, Abilene High School (Abilene, KS)
  • Elliot Kershaw, Wachusett Regional High School (Holden, MA)
  • Gabrielle Finberg, St. Ansgar High School (St. Ansgar, IA)
  • Karessa Pitcher, Weber High School (Pleasant View, UT)
  • Kaylynn Rawlins, Houston High School (Germantown, TN)
  • Kylie Rouster, Silver Creek High School (Sellersburg, IN)
  • Madeline Kerr, St. Mary High School (Paducah, KY)
  • Khellmar (O.J.) Daring, Winooski High School (Winooski, VT)
  • Peyton McQuay, Alma High School (Alma, NE)

View this short video featuring the National Grand Prize winners above!

Over 800 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:

  • How has the PAYBACK game changed your perspective on the real-life decisions you will make when paying for college?


  • What steps can you take NOW in order to complete college with as little debt as possible?

“Over 100,000 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:

“Paying for college is one of those decisions that I can’t make twice, but thanks to the PAYBACK Challenge it is now a decision I do get to practice. Before completing this simulation, I assumed I would always choose the cheapest option and hope to scrape by when paying for college.”

–Aleah Kert, Cashmere High School (Cashmere, WA)


“Impulsive spending is a black hole that everyone has fallen down… Frugality is an important practice to instill upon yourself in order to avoid being nearly crushed to death in piles of student debt.”

–Amber Holmes, Erskine Academy (South China, ME)


“Choices made while paying for college are truly about investing, balance, and delayed gratification. I will have to go against my wishes. I will have to make sacrifices. I will have to balance my social connections, happiness, and focus.”

–Annie Marazita, Worthington Kilbourne High School (Columbus, OH)


“I want to be frugal, yet take advantage of all the opportunities college has to offer me… The more I can save now and consider the opportunity cost the better off I will be to handle debt later in life.”

–Ashley Reynolds, Abilene High School (Abilene, KS)


“I told myself that I would think about student debt once I graduated and held a steady job. But life will not wait for me, and neither will my finances… Sometimes, we have to compromise our wants for our needs.”

–Elliot Kershaw, Wachusett Regional High School (Holden, MA)


“While the finishing result of the game aligned with my hope of being debt free, the game shed light on a very real fact that hadn’t come to my attention before. With every choice, my debt amount went down, but along with it plummeted my emotional well-being.”

–Gabrielle Finberg, St. Ansgar High School (St. Ansgar, IA)


“Throughout my life, my family has struggled to make ends meet, so I’ve learned to be frugal and sparing; going without a lot growing up. This kind of lifestyle has kept me motivated to get good grades and do my best so I can be financially stable in the future. PAYBACK helped me realize costs and real-life decisions I might not have considered in college planning.”

–Karessa Pitcher, Weber High School (Pleasant View, UT)


“I have grown up watching my mother struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck, barely keeping her head above water and still feeling like she is drowning. I do not want to be like that. I want to make her proud by going to school and being successful.”

–Kaylynn Rawlins, Houston High School (Germantown, TN)


“This game helped me realize that college is far more than just the cost, rather college should be an experience. One should not make every decision based on how much it is going to cost; happiness and having a social life are just as important because these are key factors needed for reaching success.”

–Kylie Rouster, Silver Creek High School (Sellersburg, IN)


“To go to college is to walk a tightrope with one’s studies in the left hand, social life in the right hand, family responsibilities strapped to the back, and finances firmly attached to the head. In a word, it’s daunting.”

–Madeline Kerr, St. Mary High School (Paducah, KY)


“One of the things that really stood out to me were loans because for some reason I had never thought of the fact that I would have to pay more money even after college was over; I believe this may be partially because I had never had an adult talk to me about things I would need to manage in college.”

–O.J., Winooski High School (Winooski, VT)


“There are choices to make every day that can make or break your education. Staying focused and on track counts for a lot, but you also need to take care of yourself and take breaks.”

–Peyton McQuay, Alma High School (Alma, NE) 


PAYBACK received a Webby Award for best Social Impact game in 2017 and was recently 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 over 14,000 financial educators looking for high-quality, engaging curriculum to equip students with skills to thrive in their future. NGPF now reaches over fifty percent (50%) of U.S. high school students who attend a school where a teacher is using their curriculum. NGPF’s investment in teachers is evidenced by their “50 in 50” campaign to bring a one day FinCamp to every state during the 2018-19 school year. NGPF has been recognized by Common Sense Education as a “Top Website for Teachers to Find Lesson Plans.”

Media Contact:
Tim Ranzetta
Next Gen Personal Finance

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.