By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With support from five banks and a charitable foundation, a three-year-old Charlotte initiative is working with employers and a handful of social-service and community agencies to help low-income people better understand the value of saving money.
“People just aren’t saving enough money,” says Alecia Bracy, executive director of CharlotteSaves, the local initiative. “They are cash-poor, living in debt and falling prey to predatory businesses out there in the community.”
Only 43 percent of Americans, including only 23 percent of African Americans and 21 percent of Hispanics, hold savings accounts, she says.
CharlotteSaves is one of more than 50 local affiliates of AmericaSaves, an initiative of the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C., that provides workshops, coaching and financial planning to help people get out of debt and create equity.
More than 1,650 people have enrolled in CharlotteSaves programs and pledged to save more than $1 million.
While its typical client is a working person with annual household income of less than $50,000, CharlotteSaves also offers support for people who do not have jobs.
The group, which offers all its programs for free, covers its $80,000 annual budget with support from Bank of America, which recently announced it was giving the group $25,000, and from First Citizens, First Charter, RBC Centura, Wachovia and the Sisters of Mercy Foundation, which contributed $25,000 in 2003.
The Consumer Federation of America also contributed $10,000 in 2003 and is expected to equal that contribution this year, says Bracy, who joined the group last August after serving as director of development for the Afro-American Cultural Center.
CharlotteSaves offers a series of financial literacy workshops that address topics ranging from budgeting and investing to credit, home-ownership and paying for an education.
The group reaches clients mainly in the workplace, asking employers if it can offer its service to employees.
Currently providing workshops in more than 50 worksites, CharlotteSaves also has teamed up with Crisis Assistance Ministries, Goodwill Industries, Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, community development corporations and public libraries.
Clients who request assistance from Crisis Assistance Ministries at least twice within a 12-month period, for example, are required to attend a workshop offered by Consumer Credit Counseling that addresses issues of savings and credit, and then receive one-on-one counseling from CharlotteSaves to help them create a budget and set goals.
CharlotteSaves also offers workshops on savings to clients for whom Goodwill Industries tries to find jobs through its WorkFirst program, and then works with them one-on-one to set up a budget.
Clients enrolled in the “individual development account” program of Mecklenburg’s social services department who agree to save $1,000 enroll in a series of financial-literacy workshops, including one offered by CharlotteSaves.
The group also has teamed up with Charlotte’s five community development corporations to provide one-on-one coaching to prepare them for the development corporations’ home-ownership programs.
And it has formed a partnership to offer wealth-building workshops at all 22 of Charlotte’s public libraries, and plans this fall to hold a fundraising seminar on savings and money that will feature a national speaker.
Bracey also serves on the steering committee of North CarolinaSaves, a new initiative to expand the kind of financial-literacy programs offered in Charlotte throughout the state.