“Recent studies show that nearly 70% of Americans would describe their financial situation as living paycheck to paycheck,” said Erin Lukoss, Executive Director and CEO of the Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC). “Financial literacy isn’t just a catchword, it’s a significant issue for many of us living in Bucks County and beyond.”
“(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.”
Whether it relates to credit-card debt, the trap of pay day lending, or simply saving money for unexpected emergencies, basic financial literacy is remarkably low among the general population. To increase financial literacy for Bucks County residents, BCOC makes these factors the framework in all our programs as they empower their clients to take control of every facet of their lives, and understand that integral in every decision they make, there is a decision about finance. We acknowledge that helping people increase their resource isn’t just about money. It requires addressing the beliefs and culture around money that may be keeping people stuck in poverty. One of those beliefs is fate- that things are “meant to be.” And, if you don’t have hope for your financial future, you may see no reason to plan, as things are “out of your control.” Skills to increase financial empowerment are built into our programs, to increase financial responsibility, knowledge, and ultimately, hope for the future. Key programs that incorporate financial literacy include:
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 its beginning in 2004, VITA volunteers have prepared more than 9,000 tax returns and generated refunds, credits, and preparation fee savings totaling $17.73M for low and moderate income working families. Volunteers can also provide resources and information on how they can use their refunds to pay off debt, and increase savings.
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 one’s own family and community. The focus of the curriculum is about helping clients build a better future by creating their own path for making a stable and secure life. They 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. Topics such as savings accounts, checking accounts, how to properly use credit cards, and the need for savings are also covered.
Economic Self-Sufficiency and the Match Savings Program
The goal of the 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. Another successful partnership, with National Penn Bank, creates incentives for BCOC clients to save money and let it grow by matching the deposits of each participant. Actively seeing their money grow is validation that their new knowledge, skills and attitude really have made 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.
“The Bucks County Opportunity Council is so thankful for the support and partnership of many of our business neighbors,” said Ms. Lukoss, and they include:
National Penn Bank
First National Bank of Newtown
Penn Community Bank
Quakertown National Bank
Inspire Federal Credit Union
“Any success, of course, depends largely on the persistence and motivation of our clients. Their hard work, persistence and desire to move beyond their hardships and create a better life for themselves and their families is inspiring. We thank them, too.”
Visit the Opportunity Council’s website, www.bcoc.org to get a better understanding of what we do and why. Our clients are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers, they may even live next to you.