Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Scott Anderson, rear, and other financial professionals discuss the costs of credit with West High students Thursday.

The two laptop computers, sitting side by side at the front of the classroom, were identical in almost all respects — same size, same appearance, same specs.

The only difference was the price tag: In this hypothetical situation, one cost $1,000 and the other a whopping $2,899.

The lesson was the first of the morning for a group of West High School students gathered to learn about the responsible use of credit and the hidden costs of convenience.

"What we want to teach you today is, first, there's a cost for doing it," Zions Bank president and CEO Scott Anderson told the high school juniors and seniors. "Second, the faster you can pay it off, the better you will be."

Anderson explained that not only would it end up costing nearly three times more than its actual selling price to buy the second machine on credit but could take up to 19 years to pay off if the buyer paid minimum payments at 18 percent interest.

Along with a representative from the U.S. Treasury Department, Zions Bank officials on Thursday led students in West's Adult Roles and Financial Literacy class through a series of scenarios involving smart credit card use.

"We're very interested in this market group. Most of them in one or two years will be in college," where they'll likely get their first credit cards and take on student loan debt, Anderson said.

"Our goal is not to discourage them about that, because all of those items are good if you use them properly," he said.

The nationwide event was part of the American Bankers Association's annual Get Smart About Credit Day. Locally, it was also sponsored by the Utah Bankers Association.

The 2003 Legislature passed a law requiring all Utah high schools to take a general financial literacy course that includes basic information about income, money management, spending and credit, saving and investing, consumer protection and risk management.

The course was required to be implemented into the core curriculum no later than 2007, making this the first year it has been offered to high school juniors and seniors.

Thursday's presentation was particularly timely, as the class is preparing to start discussing things such as credit cards and the importance of saving, West High teacher Jenefer Rowley said.

"It was really good to have them come and introduce it because we're going to be talking about these things," she said.

For the students, the idea that they could be paying on a laptop computer long after its outlived its usefulness — or that they could make $100,000 through smart investing in the same amount of time it takes to pay off a $5,000 credit-card balance — was interesting, if not groundbreaking.

"I kind of knew most of it from my parents," said senior Mayra Porras, noting that she has learned at home the value of using a debit card over a credit card.

And the students appeared very interested in Anderson's incentive to get them started on their savings plans. Each student who opens an account at the downtown Zions Bank branch and presents Anderson's business card, which he passed out at the end of Thursday's presentation, will have $30 automatically deposited into their account.