The Power of Financial Capability Integration: "They’re By Your Side"

Family Foundations in Jacksonville, FL, works to help low-income community residents build a more secure financial future, in part through the 1,000 in 1,000 program, which offers comprehensive financial coaching and counseling services to help clients achieve nine “essential assets.” Eligible 1,000 in 1,000 participants have the opportunity to participate in an Individual Development Account (IDA) program, in which participants' savings are matched two-to-one. By pairing the proven IDA tool with financial education and other supports, Family Foundations empowers low-income households with the tools necessary to reach their personal, professional and financial goals.

On a recent trip to Jacksonville, FL, Prosperity Now's Sean Luechtefeld had the chance to visit Family Foundations and sit down with 1,000 in 1,000 participant Michelle Bonafé to learn more about the impact the services have had on her life.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Sean Luechtefeld: How would you describe your financial life before you enrolled in the IDA program?

Michelle Bonafé: I was trying to get my credit straight. I have two younger children. I’m a single mom, and they depend on me; that comes first. My kids are 9 and 11.

I came in person [to Family Foundations]; that was the first time I met Miss Jackie [a Financial Counselor at Family Foundations]. She told me about the program; we scheduled another visit where I brought in my bank statement and other documents. From there we would meet at least monthly to make sure I was on track and depositing at least $15 a month in my account (I deposited more).

I had been in the program at least two years or more, but then the account had to close. I wasn’t ready to buy a home just yet. She told me about the 1,000 in 1,000 program. She advised me to come in and then we started the paperwork for the program.

SL: What do you like about the program?

MB: I love the program. I love the staff here because they are very open. They return my calls promptly. I love the warm feeling when I come in here, it’s more like we’re a family.

The staff is usually there with you, they’re going to motivate you and stay with you. I feel like I can call Miss Jackie about anything, like she’s my friend. Sometimes along the way you might get off track.

SL: Describe the application process? Was it easy or difficult?

MB: It’s very easy; pretty much your basic information. They ask you about your income, they go through your budget. Mr. Moses (another Financial Counselor at Family Foundations) tells you about the hard stuff: do this and don’t do that. They reiterate your goals during each meeting. They’re by your side throughout the process to support you.

We went through a budget, trying to keep me on track — I tend to spend a lot. We did a budget, and I started paying my credit cards down. I paid all of my debt off other than my two credit cards, but that’s recent. I took the homebuyer class, but wasn’t ready still. I’m still coming to see Miss Jackie.

SL: And you said that you didn’t complete your asset purchase but are still in the program?

MB: Yes; this is the year I’m going to buy a home. I just did my homebuyers class. I’m still saving my money, paying off my two credit cards so that my FICO score will be higher. At the last meeting, me and Miss Jackie had checked my credit score—we check it once a year. I have Credit Karma but I try not to check it too often—it makes me nervous!

SL: What impact has the IDA program had on your family?

MB: I’m not so concerned about my bills and finances. I budget really well, and I write everything down. I have learned things that I didn’t know before I came in here. I hope by the time my daughter gets to age 13, I can show her some of those things. When I got out of high school, I got a couple credit cards and had fun with them; I didn’t know how they would affect me. My situation could have been different—I could have had a home by now.

[At this point in the interview, Martha Cox, Chief Strategy & Development Officer at Family Foundations, interjected: Don’t downplay your achievements! Tell them what your credit was before and what it is now.]

MB: My credit was about 625. When I last checked it, it was 704. It’s gone up about 80 points, and I was able to qualify for a lower interest rate on my credit card.

SL: Do you talk to your kids about finances?

MB: Yes! They have a bank account, we deposit money in their bank account. My son’s a saver, my daughter is a spender. They do chores, and for their birthdays or for strong progress reports, I give them money here and there.

SL: What would you tell someone in your situation who might be considering applying for the IDA program?

MB: “If you really want it, it’s here for you. I’m always looking to encourage anybody or tell anybody about Family Foundations.” I recommended it to my mother—we went to the workshops together and in November, she bought her first home. She came to the workshop with me and she got information she didn’t know before. She learned some things in the process of not knowing how to buy a home, because she was a renter before.

I like to tell other people about programs: "If they’re working for me, they can work for you.”

SL: What are your financial goals now that you can see beyond the purchase of your home later this year?

MB: My other goal is to finish college. I’m going to school for education. From time to time I had to take a break because I pay for my classes, I don’t get financial aid. This year my goal is to buy a house, but I’ll get back into school soon. I want to teach, and I want to further my degree because I want to teach postsecondary education. I want to change a child’s life.

I’m also taking my EKG tech certification in April. I have a couple of different goals, so Jackie has it on my plan.

Before I came to the program I was looking for information pertaining to buying a house. I didn’t know the city would give you money to buy a house, which is great because it’s hard when you’re a single mom to save money for a downpayment. Coming here and learning this information benefits me, as well as my children.

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