According to a recent survey, more than half of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings in 2017. Not being prepared for financial emergencies that come up can lead to high-interest credit-card debt, the trap of pay day lending or other unpleasant financial woes. Saving money for unexpected emergencies, as well as basic financial literacy skills, are crucial to economic self-sufficiency. However, making savings a priority when you can’t meet regular monthly expenses and basic needs is more than difficult.
The Bucks County Opportunity Council, the anti-poverty Community Action Agency for Bucks County, includes the principles of financial literacy in the framework of all of our programs as we empower our clients to take control of every facet of their lives, and understand that integral in every decision they make, there is a decision about finances. Financial Literacy refers to the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources. Helping people increase their resources isn’t just about money; resources also needed for economic self-sufficiency include emotional, physical and health resources, hope and positive relationships. Key BCOC programs that incorporate financial literacy include the following.
VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
BCOC volunteers provide free, confidential, and secure tax return preparation for those in need of tax assistance. People with low-to-moderate incomes, seniors, and people with disabilities usually qualify for this free service. Since BCOC began our VITA program in 2004, VITA volunteers have prepared more than 10,000 tax returns and generated refunds, credits, and preparation fee savings totaling $19 M for low and moderate income working families. Volunteers can also provide resources and information on how clients can use their refunds to pay off debt, and increase savings.
My Free Taxes
United Way and the IRS offer My Free Taxes, a free online software tax preparation service for any household that had an income of $66,000 or less in 2017. There is also a call center help line, so that you can call and speak with a tax preparer for assistance while preparing taxes.
“Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’-By World”
Getting Ahead is a 12-week course for BCOC clients to help them as they journey toward economic self-sufficiency, by examining the impact that poverty has on their family and community. The curriculum helps clients study poverty and near poverty through the lens of economic class to better understand how our society and the economy work together. Curriculum includes the theory of change, causes of poverty, and the hidden rules of economic class. It also includes discussion of finances as they relate to resources, including income, assets, and net worth.
Economic Self-Sufficiency and the Match Savings Program
The goal of our Economic Self-Sufficiency Program is to empower low-income families with the education, skills and resources necessary to achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency without any future need for cash welfare subsidies. Integral to the Economic Self Sufficiency Program is building savings. Partnering with QNB and BB&T Banks, BCOC clients can save money for asset purchases, such as home purchase or education costs, and it is matched $1 for $1 by the bank. Actively seeing savings grow is validation that new knowledge, skills and attitude really can make a difference.
Partnering with Penn Community Bank, BCOC clients have an opportunity for apprenticeships that include training, mentorships, motivation and support systems so participants can take on more skilled work, earning a better wage, improving self-image and experiencing success as a routine in life instead of a surprise.
Working with the Credit Counseling Center and Clarifi, BCOC clients have access to their credit reports, free one-on-one consultations, assistance with credit disputes, money management workshops, and budget preparation services.
BCOC is thankful for the support and partnership of many of our financial business neighbors:
First National Bank of Newtown
Penn Community Bank
Inspire Federal Credit Union
BB & T