The United Passaic Organization is looking for 100 families to enroll in a financial education program in hopes of building resilience when adversity strikes.
“Most people are just a paycheck away from disaster,” said United Passaic Organization executive director Janelle C. Hall.
United Passaic has partnered with Greater Bergen Community Action and 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union to launch Community Action Financial Empowerment, or CAFÉ Hub, in the city of Passaic. It’s part of a larger statewide pilot program launched last month to fight poverty and funded by the state Department of Community Affairs.
“We look to the future of helping families budget, save and see the full financial picture of their households,” Hall said. “We want families to use this knowledge to become self-sufficient.”
The CAFÉ hub will guide about 350 low-income residents from Passaic, Bergen, Ocean and Mercer counties through the banking process, including opening an account, financial literacy and applying for credit, said Alison DuBois, vice president of metropolitan crisis intervention services mountains.
The idea is to broaden people’s horizons and financial literacy by working with credit advisors on budgeting, building credit scores, and saving money for retirement.
“People say too often I can’t afford it, but our message is you have to do it,” DuBois said. “You have to put it aside for the future.”
Rebecca Holmes, who lives in Passaic, will participate in the program and will take online courses with other program participants to improve her financial literacy.
She also gets a fee-free checking and savings account with 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union, financial advice, a risk-free credit construction or credit repair loan, and a private banker to help her set goals, fill out forms, and take full advantage of the program.
Holmes, who was the first person in Passaic to sign up, had no idea how to apply for a loan or budget properly until recently. Before starting the course, she had no credit history.
“It’s something I definitely needed help with,” Holmes said.
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She said she learned about different types of loans and the difference in payments between prime and subprime loans.
“Good credit can change your life forever,” Holmes said.
Participants who complete the course will receive a $2,500 secured loan from 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union. Participants never actually draw any of this money for their personal use, but do see a monthly improvement in their credit score as 1st Bergen repays the loan every month for six months. Participants also receive a modest stipend upon completion of the course.
In the meantime, attendees will be given advice on how to continuously improve their credit scores so that they are better off financially when it comes time to buy or lease a vehicle or, in Holmes’ case, a house.
United Passaic Organization trustee Howard Pujols said programs like these are critical to Passaic residents. The 2020 census lists the median Passaic household income as around $44,000.
“We have a lot of people who immigrated here when they were 30, 40 years old,” Pujols said. “Many may never have had access to a bank account.”
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The United Passaic Organization has so far recruited about a quarter of the 100 places allocated for this program. Interested participants or residents who would like more information can contact the United Passaic Organization at 973-472-2478 or email email@example.com.
“Participants are guided to the end throughout their financial journey,” Hall said. “UPO is repurposing our CARES Act funding to help community members achieve financial stability.”
In addition to the online financial education course, which is a self-paced curriculum, UPO Wealth Wednesday seminars will be held to bridge learning gaps and discuss any questions, concerns or needs clients may have regarding finance. The Wealth Wednesday seminars start in mid-September.
“This is all about accessibility because low-income families will now have access to banking tools they never had before,” Hall said. “This will help generations to come to be financially healthy.”