The report’s buzziest statistic: 53 percent of the 50,000 people who responded said that they could not handle a financial disruption costing them $400. Plainly, Americans are struggling to save cash.
To give residents the tools they need to save and invest, more and more cities are opening financial empowerment centers — but not all dollars-and-cents help is happening in drab government buildings.
A Solution on Wheels in Charlotte
When Charlotte, North Carolina, resident Marsha Barnes decided to open up her for-profit personal finance consultant business, she took a cue from the food truck industry and decided to go mobile.
The Charlotte Observer reports that the Finance Bar, Barnes’ small business, is operating out of a retrofitted school bus she purchased on Craigslist for $3,500. For sessions that cost between $30 and $55, she is helping locals create budgets, and understand their credit reports and how they can pay down their debts.
She also has her own app, the Finance Bar: Expense Manager, which helps users calculate how much they should be spending in certain categories. (For example, Barnes recommends 10 to 15 percent of income should be dedicated to savings and investments and 25 to 30 percent on housing costs.)
Last month, she won an award from a local entrepreneurship website managed by the city of Charlotte. Barnes often works with libraries to park outside of them, but tomorrow, the Finance Bar will be parked in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood at a gathering of fashion and food trucks.
An eBus Rolls Through Toledo
Using a similar strategy of bringing resources to people where they live, the Fifth Third Bank of Northwestern Ohio is sponsoring a retrofitted 40-foot city bus to tour through the Toledo area this weekend. The eBus will help residents obtain a free credit report and receive one-on-one counseling and job coaching and training, all at no charge.
Counseling will include advice on budgeting and saving, home-buying, avoiding foreclosure, understanding credit, and identity protection. OhioMeansJobs will also be on hand to help locals search for job opportunities. The eBus will be making a second trip through the region in mid-July.
San Francisco Residents Have $1 Million in the Bank for College
In 2010-2011, the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office of Financial Empowerment, the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Unified School District started a unique automatic savings program for families called Kindergarten to College.
Every kindergartner who starts public school receives $50 in a Citibank college savings account. A matching program provides another $100 for the first additional $100 deposited, and a $100 bonus for six months of consistent savings. The 20,000 families who have enrolled have saved more than $1 million total and $547 each on average since the program began.
Even so, those numbers also show that only 14 percent of families are participating. The city hopes to raise that figure to 20 percent.
It’s still pretty good news considering the fact that fewer than 3 percent of families save money for college, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The program is a 2015 finalist in Harvard Ash Center’s Innovations in American Government Awards.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.