By Agatha So, Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Project, NCLR
Building wealth is essential for Latinos to achieve financial prosperity today, and is essential to the prosperity of generations to come. That’s why NCLR works with nearly 300 community-based Affiliates across the country to help Latinos improve their credit, increase their savings, and build wealth. The Washington, DC-based Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), a member of the NCLR Homeownership Network (NHN), is a pioneer in offering financial capability services for Latino families. As we continue Financial Capability Month, we’re proud to feature the work of Anabell Martinez, Housing Director at CARECEN.
Martinez and the CARECEN staff focus on how they can empower Latino families to make informed financial decisions. “For many clients coming to CARECEN for financial counseling, it’s the first time they hear about making a budget,” said Martinez. She understands the need for financial capability because she knows what kind of questions Latino families have about building wealth and the difficulties they face to protect what they have earned.
“Many low-income clients come in, and we help them to apply for utility discounts and other programs they may be eligible for to help them save a little more,” said Martinez.
CARECEN first integrated financial capability into the organization’s citizenship program. In 2014, with technical support from NCLR, CARECEN created a financial capability presentation for participants in their U.S. citizenship course. CARECEN determined that future U.S. citizens needed to strengthen their financial know-how in order to be able to fully integrate into American society. After the presentation, participants had the option of attending financial counseling sessions with CARECEN staff.
Jose Salgado, a participant in CARECEN’s citizenship program, achieved several of his financial goals in just over a year thanks to one-on-one coaching sessions. In January 2015, Mr. Salgado attended a citizenship screening, and the following October, he attended a financial capability workshop as part of his citizenship class. In February 2016, Mr. Salgado came to CARECEN for a financial coaching session, where he learned how to create a household budget, and set two financial goals—one of which was to have enough money to pay for the application for U.S. citizenship, and eventually become a citizen. After several follow-up appointments with CARECEN staff, Mr. Salgado became a U.S. citizen on February 19. By the end of February, he had opened a bank account and started putting money into an emergency savings fund.
After seeing the financial capability of citizenship program participants improve, Martinez decided to integrate financial counseling into CARECEN’s housing programs. Whether families are renting an apartment, trying to buy a home, or are homeowners facing foreclosure, the counseling has made a difference in their lives. In financial coaching sessions, counselors work with clients to create a budget that reflects their current financial situation, and use it to plan their spending and reduce unnecessary expenses.
“We work with clients to create an action plan to help them reach their goals. It’s like case management, where a counselor has multiple contacts with a client,” said Martinez. Counselors help clients read and understand the information in their credit report, as well as determine if they can receive free tax preparation services, or apply for a credit to their annual property tax payments.
When asked about the impact of financial capability, Martinez said it’s about helping families build wealth using the resources, knowledge and skills learned and fostered through financial coaching.
It is essential that financial capability continues to be built into housing counseling and other direct services so that more Latinos and their families can continue to build their wealth.