Parents, you've had the sex talk and the drug talk. You've even launched into the don't-share-nude-selfies talk.

Turns out there's another topic that makes many parents even more squeamish: money.

But now U.S. Bank's philanthropic arm is helping teens and young adults better understand personal finances with a series of online tutorials on subjects such as credit vs. debit cards, auto loans and building emergency savings.

The U.S. Bank program has enticed 103,000 high school and college students to take the tutorials by giving away 16 college scholarships totaling $50,000. It's one of several programs offered by nonprofits to improve financial literacy among teens and young adults — and meet what is increasingly seen as a real need.

For instance, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest talked money with 160,000 schoolchildren in Minnesota, North Dakota and western Wisconsin last year.

"It's one of those taboo subjects: religion, sex and personal finances. Sometimes it's a difficult conversation to have," said Lori Dossett, Junior Achievement director of marketing and communications.

"With the economic situation that our country went through, everyone is wanting to be more aware of their personal finances and how to take control of that. You can really start teaching kids as young as kindergarten basic money management and economic concepts."

BestPrep, a statewide nonprofit based in Brooklyn Park, reached 67,000 schoolchildren last year with a series of financial literacy programs ranging from "Financial Matters" to "The Stock Market Game."

In response to heightened demand during the Great Recession, BestPrep added several more specialized financial literacy programs for kids in 2008 and 2009, said President and CEO Bob Kaitz. It's rolling out a new program this fall called "Housing Matters" that goes over renting, buying a home and getting a loan.

"With college debt increasing and the change in the economy, there is a greater urgency," said Bonnie Vagasky, BestPrep vice president of educational programs. "We talk about credit scores. We talk about loans. We talk about investing, budgeting, taxes and insurance."

Learning the hard way

U.S. Bank established its "Student Union" online tutorial and scholarship program last year after a survey of 1,600 people ages 18 to 30 showed some serious confusion about personal finances. The program is free and open to non-U. S. Bank customers as well.

"The two most popular topics are managing credit and overdrafts. Students do not understand what credit is, and 30 percent are overdrafting on a regular basis," said Ederick Lokpez, U.S. Bank director of engagement strategies.

Many students indicated that their primary source of financial information was their parents, so U.S. Bank surveyed them as well. It found that many parents talk about "piggy-bank saving and budgeting," but not credit and long-term savings.

Only about 40 percent of parents said they specifically taught their kids how to manage money. And a lot of those lessons aren't sinking in: Only 18 percent of teens and young adults surveyed said their parents specifically taught them money management skills.

Nathan Dean, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, said he believes college students could benefit from more detailed information about loans, credit and budgeting.

"We understand money at a very basic level. We never take the time to consider it beyond 'I don't have enough money to go out this week,' " said Dean, a marketing major who interned at U.S. Bank last summer.

Part of the reason parents may stop short is that many adults don't have a clear understanding of credit themselves. That can leave teens and young adults prone to financial mistakes that eventually make it tougher for them to buy a car, rent an apartment or buy a home.

Lokpez, who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela as a young man, said he understands the pain of bad credit. "I learned the hard way to manage my credit. I destroyed it before I actually started to have it," he said.

Since the program launched, U.S. Bank customer experience director Robyn Gilson said it's prompted her to speak to her own children more intentionally about money matters.

Gilson said her parents, both college professors, never broached the subject with her until she ran into trouble in college.

"I was very much self-taught through mistakes," she said. "I want to change that curve as many others do, too."

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804