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VOL. 132 | NO. 230 | Monday, November 20, 2017

Trustee’s Office Promotes Financial Education and Counseling

By Andy Meek

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Shelby County Trustee David Lenoir will tell you that the myriad financial education programs and initiatives his office is involved with – covering everything from helping improve consumer credit to financial counseling – are what he sees as part of his job as the “banker for the county.”

To that end, the trustee’s office teamed up with the RISE Foundation on a new effort, which resulted in a $20,000 grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. That grant covers the planning stage of setting up a “financial empowerment center” that will provide free one-on-one financial counseling.

Memphis is one 12 cities chosen for this effort, which is supported at the national level by an investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

David Lenoir

 

Lenoir is preparing in the next few days to make a kind of fact-finding trip to Nashville, which has had such a center up and running for the last few years. And on top of the $20,000 already awarded, Lenoir says another $250,000 in matching grant dollars is available from the CFEF to make the center in Memphis a self-sustaining community resource.

“So it’s actually in all almost a $300,000 grant,” he explained. “The $20,000 is the first component of it. We don’t have to reapply for the additional funding. We just have to get through the planning and design, and once that’s completed – that’s a six- to nine-month process – then we’ll go to the implementation and operations phase.”

The planning phase will help determine, he continues, whether the center takes shape as a brick-and-mortar space; as a hub-and-spoke satellite operation; or whether it will be a mobile operation of some kind. It could also potentially be all of the above.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell both sent letters of support to help secure the funding, as did United Way CEO Kenneth Robinson.

At the financial empowerment centers, professionally trained counselors help individuals and low- and moderate-income families manage their finances, pay down debt, increase savings, establish and build credit, and access affordable – and mainstream – banking products. The model focuses on the integration of counseling into other social services like housing and foreclosure prevention, workforce development, prisoner reentry, benefits access and domestic violence services, to name a few.

Other cities chosen for the centers include Akron, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Greenville County, South Carolina; Houston, Texas; Miami, Florida; New Haven, Connecticut; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sacramento and San Francisco, California; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Syracuse, New York.

Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund president and CEO Jonathan Mintz said that with the new center, Memphis is “joining a national movement to bring free, high-quality financial counseling as a public service to (its) residents.”

The center in Memphis, meanwhile, is being set up at the same time as the trustee’s office has also been working on a new campaign called “701 in the 901,” launched under the banner of the existing Bank On Memphis effort.

The idea behind the new effort is that it involves working to help residents get their credit scores above 700. To that end, Operation HOPE is the entity providing free credit counseling inside select First Tennessee Bank and SunTrust Bank locations.

“It was a brainchild and a vision of Tim Bolding, the former executive director at United Housing,” Lenoir said. “Unfortunately, Tim passed away a few months ago. Just out of respect for him and United Housing, we wanted a little time to pass, but Tim and I had talked about it.

In essence, it’s a play on numbers. We live, obviously, in the 901 area code, and 700 is the magic number to some degree in terms of credit score. So what we’re doing here is trying to help people rebuild and repair their credit.”

According to the effort, the average Memphian has a credit score of 609 and $39,000 in individual debt.

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