'MoneySense' Helps Financial Educators To Educate

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CU: Community Trust

Category: Financial Education

Community Trust Credit Union created and produced a financial education program to help area educators teach basic financial literacy to the community, particularly newly immigrated Spanish-speakers.

Called MoneySense, the program includes a CD-ROM, workbooks and other classroom materials for schools and community-based social service organizations.

"We were already teaching financial literacy in the community," said Yolanda Meraz, Marketing Director at CTCU with $51 million in assets. "But the demand was so large that we couldn't get to everybody so we decided to create this train-the-trainer program."

While her original idea was to provide information on saving, Meraz said it quickly became clear that the target audiences can't save if they don't know how to budget.

"So we started from scratch," she said, explaining that the basic theme of the program teaches audiences how to budget in order to save.

Sandell McLaughlin, Community Development Director, who wrote the materials and collaborated with Meraz on creating this program, said it allows instructors who know their students' needs to customize the lessons accordingly.

"We knew that these community leaders were the trusted faces that needed to be giving out this information," McLaughlin said. "We wanted something that they could almost be self-trained to use."

She said the CD-ROM includes video vignettes using real people that appeal to the target audience and is "as basic as possible."

"We wanted something very grassroots rather than assuming that people know what assets are or what the difference is between debit and credit cards," she said. "When you are speaking to a population without a tradition of banking, (using certain terminology) is like it's from another planet. We wanted to take the mystery out of that and give them something they could use securely."

For example, she said, one 30-second video blurb might include the simple comment: "I don't feel comfortable having a direct deposit of my paycheck" or "We should start a budget, but how can we when we're barely making it."

She said she's watched audience members nod when hearing such comments, which triggers conversation and education. The final video segment shows one family planting flowers around their home. "It says, 'Look what's happened to us now. We're homeowners."

McLaughlin said the effort, which took a year to complete-"We spent 450 hours on the CD alone"-is a best practice because it targets the unbanked and other members of the community who lack financial survival skills and are vulnerable to predatory practices. CTCU's membership is 40% Hispanic, 80% of whom are from Mexico.

"Many are recent immigrants and do not speak English," she said. "As such, they have an ingrained distrust of banks which makes them vulnerable to predatory financial practices."

She said requests for CTCU to bring financial information to various groups throughout the area have become overwhelming, thus the creation of MoneySense.

Grant From NCUF

CTCU received a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation to create a format and lesson plans. She said they include lessons that introduce financial concepts and tools that could be taught by a trusted face in their own language and environment, practical tools that the students could use to set and achieve long-term goals, and information about credit unions as the financial institution of choice.

She said the CD-ROMs are available in both English and Spanish and are free for the asking. In addition, CTCU provides $10 gift certificates toward a new savings account to program graduates as an incentive to begin putting their savings skills to work.

"Riverbank High School seniors were taught the MoneySense program in their 2004-2005 economics class with improvement in their pre- and post-class knowledge scores ranging from 75% to 81%," McLaughlin said.

The Latino Business Association Foundation showed its support for the program by opening education savings accounts of $25 each at CTCU for 100 incoming kindergarteners whose parents received MoneySense lessons at a local Healthy Start facility, she said.

"MoneySense is also being taught as part of Habitat for Humanity's homeowner education for partner families and as a session at their annual orientation," she said.

The CD has been shared with CUs nationwide and was highlighted during the Community Development Credit Union Institute, sponsored by the National Foundation of Community Development Credit Unions, in August. The Texas Credit Union League also used the materials to conduct a workshop during its leadership conference in September.

And, thus far, McLaughlin said, 55 credit unions across the country have requested copies.

"We are so happy with the results that have come from this," McLaughlin said. "You know, it really wasn't about (gaining) accounts. It's about reaching. The whole philosophy was to help people-the core philosophy of the credit union movement."

McLaughlin said that she and Meraz, whom she called a "marketing genius" for her role in producing MoneySense, are now scouting for more grant money to produce a second volume.

"Now that we have some feedback, we need to answer more questions," she said. "Such as how to look for a loan and how to establish or clean up credit. Now that they have the basics, they want to focus in more tightly on what they need to be successful."

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