Struggling with budgeting? Getting a loan? Saving for retirement? Help is available in NJ

·4 min read

United Passaic Organization is looking for 100 families to take part in a financial literacy program in hopes of fostering resiliency when misfortune strikes.

"Most people are just one paycheck away from disaster," said United Passaic Organization Executive Director Janelle C. Hall.

United Passaic has partnered with Greater Bergen Community Action and the 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union to launch the Community Action Financial Empowerment, or CAFÉ Hub, in the city of Passaic. It is part of a larger statewide pilot program launched last month to fight poverty, funded through the state Department of Community Affairs.

“We are looking toward the future of helping families budget, save and see the entire financial picture of their households," Hall said. "We want families to use this knowledge to become self-sufficient."

The CAFÉ Hub will guide roughly 350 low-income residents, from Passaic, Bergen, Ocean and Mercer counties, through the process of banking, including opening an account, financial literacy and applying for loans, said Alison DuBois, vice president of crisis intervention services for Greater Bergen.

The idea is to broaden people's horizons and financial knowledge by working with credit counselors on budgeting, building a credit score and saving money for retirement.

"People too often say 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."

Passaic resident Rebecca Holmes will participate in the program, and along with others in the program, she will take online courses to enhance her financial literacy.

Dr. Janelle Hall, Exec. Dir. of United Passaic Organization, talks about how financial literacy can change the lives of people.
Dr. Janelle Hall, Exec. Dir. of United Passaic Organization, talks about how financial literacy can change the lives of people.

She will also get a no-fee checking and savings account at 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union, financial counseling, a no-risk credit builder or credit repair loan, and a private banker to help her set goals, complete forms and take full advantage of the program.

Holmes, who was the first person in Passaic to sign up, had until very recently no idea how to apply for a loan or properly budget. Before taking the course, she did not have a credit rating.

"It is 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.

"Having good credit can change your life in a major way," Holmes said.

Participants who complete the course are given a secured $2,500 loan by 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union. Participants never actually draw any of that money for their personal use, but they do see a monthly boost in their credit rating when 1st Bergen pays off the loan every month for six months. Participants also receive a modest stipend at the completion of the course.

In the meantime, participants will get counseled on ways to continuously lift their credit ratings, so when it comes time to buy or lease a vehicle, or in Holmes' case a house, they are in a better financial spot.

United Passaic Organization trustee Howard Pujols said programs like these are key for Passaic residents. The 2020 census lists the average Passaic household income at around $44,000.

"We got a lot of people who immigrated here when they were 30, 40 years old," Pujols said. "Many might never have had access to a bank account."

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United Passaic Organization so far has recruited people for about a quarter of the 100 spaces allotted to this program. Interested participants or residents looking for more information can contact United Passaic Organization at 973-472-2478 or via email at info@unitedpassaic.org.

“Participants will be guided throughout their financial journey until the end,” Hall said. “UPO is repurposing our CARES Act funding to help community members reach financial stability.”

In addition to the online financial literacy course, which is a self-guided curriculum, UPO will host Wealth Wednesday seminars to supplement any gaps in learning and discuss any questions, concerns or needs that clients may have regarding finances. The Wealth Wednesday seminars will begin in mid-September.

“This is all about accessibility, because low-income families will now have access to banking tools that they never had before," Hall said. "This will help generations to come on how to be fiscally sound.”

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: United Passaic Organization offers financial literacy help