by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
What’s the best way to build credit, or to eliminate credit card debt, get student loans or reduce student loan interest, or invest for retirement? The average person doesn’t have the expertise to address these issues and isn’t well-off enough to hire a professional. But now they don’t have to—they can access the professionals who have the expertise, one-on-one, for free, thanks to the City of Pittsburgh’s Financial Empowerment Center.
Though the city announced the office’s creation in May 9, FEC Program Manager Rebecca Johnson told KDKA Radio’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland the next day that it had actually started operating in March.
“We’ve actually seen 100 clients already,” Johnson said. “And it can be used for any financial issue people are looking for help with.”
And it can be used by anybody. There are no income restrictions. But to make sure people of modest means can access the services, the center set up offices with partner organizations all over the city: Advantage Credit Counseling on the South Side; Nova Place on the North Side; Pittsburgh Community Partners in Oakland; the Homewood YMCA; the Carnegie libraries in Carrick and the West End; and several other sites. The services are even available at Focus on Renewal in McKees Rocks.
Pittsburgh’s Small Business and Redevelopment Manger, Henry Horn Pyatt, said during the same radio show that it was critical to make the services as easily accessible as possible.
“So we have community partners who are already doing good work—and they’re where the buses run,” he said. “This is free to everyone. It’s a public service—it’s not a rip-off or a scam, or some 800-number trying to sell you a loan product. No one is going to try to sell you anything…it’s just you talking to another human being who wants to help you out.”
The idea for these centers came from a program started in 2008 in New York City. It has been expanded in other cities through the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. Now, thanks to the fund, and partnerships with Neighborhood Allies and Advantage Credit Counseling, professionally trained counselors at the Pittsburgh FEC can help individuals and families manage their finances, pay down debt, increase savings, establish and build credit, and access safe and affordable mainstream banking products.
To that last point, Sarah Dieleman Perry of Neighborhood Allies noted that people who use check-cashing services are taking a big financial hit.
“Those without bank accounts can accumulate $40,000 in fees over a lifetime by using alternative financing,” she said. “We can help them get bank accounts. This is for everybody. Everyone can use a bit of expert advice—and the person to go to when you need expert advice on your finances is a certified and trained financial counselor.”
(To meet with one of the FEC’s counselors, call 1-800-298-0237 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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