Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Gena Bigler: Back on Track program gives people in need a hand up – not a handout
It seems that there is a lot of confusion between a hand up and handout. No one makes it without some help, and the United Way specializes in help. Their Back on Track program is investing in our community by building stronger, more productive citizens.
“Too good to be true!” That’s what I thought when I heard about Back on Track. The program helps people save money and when they reach the savings goal of $2,000 the United Way matches by contributing $4,000 for a total of $6,000. That’s right; they give $2 for every one you save.
Participants commit to one of three goals: saving for education (yours or your child’s); buying a home; or building or starting a business. All of these goals are intended to help build a robust and vibrant community.
Along with encouraging you to save, the United Way helps you learn how to save. Completing financial educational goals is part of the program. Depending on what you choose to save for you might learn about how home mortgages work or about what should be in a business plan.
If you run into bumps along the way, you have help. The folks at the United Way are available for participants to call, email or visit with if they need help or encouragement. They will even help you get your taxes done. In fact, they will provide anyone in the community who receives income under $50,000 with free tax preparation help.
“Ann” has successfully completed the program. She said using her income tax return helped her quickly reach her savings goal. She now wonders what she did with that income before this program. Ann had tried saving before but grew frustrated with the painfully slow growth of her savings with the “latte savings plan” (skipping the latte and dropping the cost into savings). Like having a workout buddy, having a United Way mentor helped keep her accountable and investing in her savings each month. Making a monthly deposit into the savings account each month develops saving as a habit.
Ann spent several years doing public service and teaching internationally. After working to help others, she found herself ready to further her education but unable to work full time and excel in the competitive graduate program. Those years helping others left her with no savings. The Back on Track program literally helped her get back on track while also giving our community a well-educated worker. As a goal-oriented saver, she said one of the best parts of the program was watching her savings grow and calculating how much in matching dollars she had earned.
As a nation, Americans only save an average of about 1 percent to 5 percent of our income. That is obscenely low compared to the rest of the world. Saving at this rate is completely inadequate to cover known expenses such as college tuition and retirement. By teaching participants how to save and by rewarding their efforts this program impacts much more than the individual.
Most people learn their spending and saving habits from their parents. By encouraging saving, Back on Track has the potential to benefit generations. Parents are helping their children go to college, adults are furthering their own education, micro-businesses are being started or expanded, and families are buying their own homes. Well-rooted families are families that care about what happens in their neighborhoods. Well educated citizens are more employable and a solid foundation of small business builds a more resilient community.
A hand up helps everyone. The United Way is strengthening our community one family at a time, one savings account at a time.
For more information, click here. For tax help call 211 or contact your local United Way office.
Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at email@example.com.