From Poverty to Prosperity: Money Smart Success Stories and Tips for Providing Financial Education to Struggling Families
For many financial educators, helping struggling individuals learn how to save and borrow money -- so they can provide a safer and more secure future for their families -- is a source of great satisfaction. This installment of our Money Smart "Success Stories" shines the spotlight on financial education programs offered by government and nonprofit "social services" organizations -- including public assistance programs, emergency financial aid, family counseling and welfare-to-work initiatives -- and some best practices we have developed that any educator helping financially needy families may find useful.
First, we share a few stories that came about as a result of Money Smart training:
A disabled student wrote the FDIC to say that, after his first session of Money Smart, he decided to sell his truck since his wife worked from home and they did not need two cars. He added that, thanks to the class, this was the first time he looked at his "financial picture on paper."
A low-income student started automatically putting her pay raises into a savings account as a result of Money Smart.
A participant commented that "Money Smart means I can take control of my financial matters and finally reach my goal of owning my own home," and "Money Smart taught me to be an informed consumer with housing, transportation, and loans. It also taught me to hone my skills."
Several low-income families took actions that resulted in them becoming first-time homeowners and starting new businesses ranging from an ice cream store to providing day-care.
One student opened two certificates of deposit (CDs) at a local bank and set a goal of working up to a savings “nest egg” of $5,000. In addition, she reviewed her credit report, found inaccurate information that was damaging her credit score, and contacted the credit bureau to fix the problem.
What are some of the lessons social services organizations can share about the delivery of financial education to low-income families?
Help people understand how, even on very little income, they can find new ways to put money into savings accounts. "While families may be limited in how much they can save, they still need to have a rainy-day fund to pay for unexpected medical expenses, car repairs or other emergencies," said Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC's Community Affairs Outreach Section. He encouraged educators to share examples of easy ways to save, include cutting back on sodas or snacks from vending machines and shopping for groceries on sale in bulk quantities.
Inspire participants to save for long-term goals such as starting a business or buying a car or house. For example, help them understand that homeownership can be a source of financial and emotional stability for low-income people, and explain how to save for "the American dream." That’s part of a weekly, 10-session Money Smart homeownership counseling class for low-income renters offered by the Housing Authority of the City of Columbia, Missouri, which features guidance on money management and budgeting with future homeownership in mind.
Explain why and how to build a good credit record. A good credit report -- or at least one without inaccurate, negative information -- could be an essential first step for finding work or moving up to a better job. In Overland Park, Kansas, a state government’s Money Smart course for women transitioning from public assistance to the workforce covers the basics of managing finances but mainly focuses on helping participants improve their credit rating. “Most of the women didn't know what a credit report or a credit score was, nor did they know that they could negotiate their debt with their creditors,” said Kevin Shields, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist involved with the classes. During the two years since the class started, he said, many of the participants obtained their credit reports and, as a result, "began paying off bills and negotiating with their creditors."
Encourage participants to share and celebrate their successes. Their stories may inspire others, including their educators. "Cash-strapped consumers may already be experts at making a little amount of money go a long way," added Reynolds. "This is an example of how financial educators can leverage some students' expertise by encouraging them to share it with others."
Consider teaching in small groups, including one-on-one sessions. At the W.E.B. Dubois Community Development Corporation in Wake Forest, North Carolina, "Money Smart class sizes are kept small to encourage discussion, and each session lasts no more than 90 minutes," said CEO Betty Murchison. But Money Smart doesn’t need to be a formal class. It can be used for one-on-one counseling – as the Dubois program does when teaching about reading and improving credit reports and building relationships with banks. In addition, the computer-based instruction (CBI) version of Money Smart allows students to study at their own pace.
Think about creative ways to reach economically-stressed families. Examples of ideas that can attract new participants and help them build self-sufficiency and stability include:
Offering financial education at the workplace, such as lunch-and-learn sessions, articles in employee newsletters, and adding a link to the Money Smart CBI version on a company’s internal Web site;
Holding a class for children (using the new Money Smart for Young Adults curriculum) at the same time parents attend a Money Smart workshop.
Trying to reach parents of children enrolled in social services programs such as Head Start. One example is St. Joseph Mercy of Oakland, a community hospital in metropolitan Detroit, which received a $20,000 grant from Comerica Bank’s Charitable Foundation to teach Money Smart during home visitations to high-risk families with infants and young children.
Want to learn more about Money Smart or suggest new ways to help needy families better manage their money? We encourage you to contact your FDIC regional Community Affairs Officer.