Financial literacy course offered at Jeannette Salvation Army

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Elliott Federal Credit Union and Jeannette Circles have come together to offer a financial literacy course this month in light of climbing credit card debt nation wide and an increase in households that no longer hold a bank account.

There will be three sessions, held at the Jeannette Salvation Army, on Jan. 15, 22 and 29, from 6-7:30 p.m. All sessions are free and open to the public. Snacks and water will be served by Jeannette Circles.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released a figures in 2012 that estimate that 10 million households in the U.S. do not have a bank account and that figure is up by a million households from 2009.

The FDIC surveys, in 2009 and 2011, were conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau — information on those surveys can be found at

What is driving this trend to be “unbanked?” According to, there are several things that may be working against those households. Some families cannot afford to keep a minimum balance and, therefore, are subject to fees which, when money is tight can seem to be a waste of cash.

Jim Benson, president of the Elliott Federal Credit Union, and members of his staff teach the sessions. Benson, an advocate of the Jeannette Circles initiative, which works to assist families and individuals to make the move from poverty to self-sufficiency, is passionate about teaching people to manage their money and stay away from predatory lending situations.

“Studies have shown that people who have a lower degree of financial literacy tend to borrow more, save less and pay more in fees related to financial products,” said Benson. “They are less likely to invest, more likely to experience difficulty with debt and less likely to know the terms of their loans. They are more likely to become victims of financial fraud or scams.

“The cost of this is high, leading many people to incur avoidable charges and fees from things like making late credit card payments or paying only the minimum amount due, overspending their credit card limit and using cash advances to incurring hundreds of dollars in fees from their checking accounts for overdrafts.”

Many poor and working class families have a limited amount of knowledge of how money and banking works, and just stay away from traditional lending institutions. The FDIC reports there is a fear of high overdraft fees if the consumer makes a mistake in calculating an available cash balance.

Others may have been denied a bank account. states that just like a credit history, a consumer's bank history can a follow him. Most banks use a huge screening database to make sure that applicants are not a risk. If an applicant is deemed a risk, they can be denied an account.

Lucy Bittner, a community connector and coach for Circles said, “There are lots of safety nets in poverty to catch people when they fall, but there really are very few ladders to help people get out. We need the fundamentals to help us get out.”

That sentiment is why Circles members and leaders believe that programs like the financial literacy classes are important.

Week one will cover predatory lending, banks and credit unions, loans and credit cards, checking basics and budgeting basics. The second week will cover paying savings accounts first, credit basics and loans and week three will make sure that participants have contact phone numbers, useful information, and will have an opportunity to open a “Second Chance Checking Account” and find out about the credit union's “Second Chance Loan Program.”

Jeannette Circles meets most Wednesday nights from September to May at the Jeannette Salvation Army. Participants work on goals and strategies that they have identified that will help them become self-sufficient. The group also works on identifying and trying to remove barriers in the community that work to keep people in poverty.

Anyone interested in attending the financial literacy sessions should contact Bittner at 724-914-0114.

Margie Stanislaw is a contributing writer.

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