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News #7

Happy end of summer and into fall, everyone. Welcome to the 7th newsletter of the CT Asset Building Collaborative. Read on for events you can attend, news you can use, and take a look at key research findings and national news that affects us and our work.  Don’t forget to follow us on facebook or twitter for all the latest news and events!

Local opportunities to learn

Greater Fairfield Regional Networking Meeting

It’s Fairfield’s turn to get together, learn about what’s going on locally in the asset building field, and do some serious peer networking! The CT Asset Building Collaborative regional networking meeting will be held at the Housatonic Community College Event Center, in Bridgeport, on October 18, 2017, from 9am to 12pm. Register here. See you there!

Jump$tart Financial Literacy Summit

Learn how to confront the student debt crisis, and how to better prepare young people to plan for college! This extremely important topic is the focus of the next annual Jump$tart Financial Literacy Summit, to be held at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel, Rocky Hill, Connecticut, on Friday, October 13, 2017, from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM. With seven in ten college seniors carrying student loans averaging $37,000, how to pay for college has become a critical component of the personal finance curriculum.  You'll leave this conference with a solid understanding of what students must know to make smart choices as well as tips, techniques and resources for delivering this information in a powerful way.  Alternatives to the traditional college-to-career path will also be explored. Visit the Jump$tart website to find out more and to register.

News you can use

CT Asset Building Collaborative named as Community Champion.

The CT Asset Building Collaborative is proud to announce that it was named as a Community Champion of Asset Building by Prosperity Now (formerly CFED). See more here. We are proud to be working together, with all our members, to ensure that Connecticut residents can access affordable and high quality financial services, tools and products, and to be removing barriers to saving and building wealth.

Become a CT Asset Building Collaborative Steering Member!

Now’s your chance to get more involved with this growing organization. The CT Asset Building Collaborative is looking for steering committee members. We meet monthly, usually in New Haven, Bridgeport or Hartford, with the option to call in by phone. We organize regular regional meetings, peer learning events, and periodic conferences; we keep up with state asset building work, and discuss policy news that matters to our members; and we create and share this newsletter. Come join us! If you are interested, please contact Joy Duva at [email protected].

New Haven forging ahead with FEC and BankOn

New Haven continues to develop its financial empowerment support for low and moderate income city residents. With funding and technical support from the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund, the city has been developing a financial empowerment strategy, which included establishing a Mayoral Financial Empowerment Commission. A Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) is in the works; staff are being trained, and the city is seeking implementation funds. The City has also received funding for a two-year BankOn Fellow, who will lead a Bank On Coalition for the city, and work with local banks to create products for low-income people who are currently not well served by banks, and help them access those products. The Bank On Fellow will be a member of a cohort of four other such Fellows around the country.

Your Money Your Goals for the ReEntry population

Your Money Your Goals materials are now available designed specifically for the ReEntry population. See here for the new ReEntry Companion Guide, to use alongside your existing toolkit. All materials are available for free on the CFPB website, either to download, or to order hard copies.

Connecticut Economic Inclusion Summit

This summit already happened, in July, so if you missed it you’re too late. BUT it’s not too late to make use of the resources that were discussed at the summit. Attendees heard about the FDIC 2015 National Survey of Banks’ Efforts to Serve the Un- and Underbanked, including information about the FDIC SAFE Account template intended to provide banking services to the underserved. Anyone can access results from the survey from the website, including results from their particular locality. The survey results were followed by a presentation about the economic challenges facing Connecticut including slow economic and labor growth, rising interest rates, and challenging demographic changes of residents. The morning concluded with two panels by the New Haven Financial Empowerment Center and LifeBridge Community Services where each spoke about their models for creating further economic inclusion in their respective cities. As a follow up to the FDIC event, the Asset Building Collaborative would like to conduct a state-wide peer learning event for further discussion about the various models being employed throughout the State to further advance economic inclusion. Stay tuned to hear more about this!

The latest news and research that matters

Financial Empowerment Evaluation

The Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund released an evaluation report evaluating the performance of the five Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs) around the country that they have been supporting since 2012 (in addition to the original FEC model initiated in New York). It’s a long report, but has a concise executive summary, and anyone doing or interested in financial counseling should take a look.  You’ll come away hopeful that financial counseling through the FEC model can be an effective way to help people open safe bank accounts, improve their credit, reduce debt, and start to build savings, as well as reduce stress, build confidence and improve decision making skills.

MyRA is no longer...

Bad news from the treasury. The US Treasurer announced on 28th July that the MyRA program, which was created to help low to middle income earners start saving for retirement, will be closed down. The demand for the program, said the Treasurer, was not enough to justify the expense of managing it. MyRA provided a safe, free way for people to save relatively small amounts (maximum $15,000); the funds were invested in United States Treasury savings bonds, which paid the same variable rate as that available to federal employees through the government retirement plan. While relatively few people had signed up – only 30,000 - the program was only three years old, and it had little chance to develop into the safe, savings choice that it might have offered to many more low to moderate income Americans.

...But VITA is safe, for now!

But better news from the House of Representatives, where funding for the VITA program was restored to its 2017 level of $15 million, after numerous calls and appeals from the public. A 50% cut had been proposed; as anyone involved with VITA knows, it already operates on a shoestring, and the cut would have been disastrous for the many low-income Americans who rely on the service to file their taxes and access their refunds.

CFPB promoting overdraft transparency and consumer legal rights

If you’ve read this newsletter before, you’ll have read articles we’ve posted about how burdensome overdraft fees can be for low and even moderate income Americans. Here’s another article highlighting how poor Black people are the worst affected. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (long may it last) is building on the excellent research it has done to date on overdrafts, and has now come up with a form which it recommends banks use to explain overdrafts to their customers. See a New York Times article about it here.

The CFPB has also recently finalized a rule to ensure that consumers can join group lawsuits when they are treated unfairly by companies (including banks). If this rule had been in place, then customers of Wells Fargo affected by that bank’s practice of secretly opened phony bank accounts would have been able to act collectively; as it was their group lawsuit was blocked and individual consumers were pushed into closed-door proceedings. The Senate is deciding on the rule soon – see more here.

Keeping banks out of payday lending

Many of use assume that banks are basically the good guys, and non-bank financial service providers like check cashers or payday lenders are the bad guys. But, did you know that until a 2013 regulatory change, some banks, such as Wells Fargo and were providing payday loans to customers? And now some of them want to get back into that market. We’re lucky here in Connecticut that there are caps on how much lenders can charge in interest, which makes it impossible to offer such loans in our state, but as many Connecticut residents access payday loans online, we all need to pay attention to this market. See here for more information.

2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard

The annual scorecard is out, and the results aren’t great. Prosperity Now’s annual reckoning of how Americans are doing finds that while more people have jobs, and incomes are a little higher, it is no easier to get ahead. Many Americans are still struggling to become financially stable, or to build wealth. Prosperity Now blames i) ongoing income volatility, due primarily to unreliable employment; ii) low wages; iii) housing costs, and; iv) racial economic disparities.