People in Carrick can receive free financial counseling that has helped others who have high housing costs, minimal savings and low incomes reduce their debt, improve their credit and sometimes build emergency savings during the global pandemic that has challenged many people’s finances.
The service was originally offered at the Carnegie Library – Carrick and other locations around Pittsburgh. It was intended from the start to be easy to reach. The local library is on a major bus route.
The free counseling service moved online during the pandemic.
“Nearly every adult in the United States has some form of debt,” Advantage Credit Counseling Service wrote on its website. Debt is used to purchase cars, buy a house or finance higher education. Too much debt is difficult to handle, and can lead to juggling bills, paying late fees and incurring higher interest rates – which leads to more debt.
The Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) is a city program where residents who are 18 or older can meet with a certified financial counselor to review ways to improve their situation. Options looked into during one-on-one counseling include analyzing people’s current finances, creating a realistic budget, looking for ways to save money, paying down debt and improving their credit.
For some people, it means connecting with safe, affordable financial products.
For others, the program can help with debt collectors by consolidating outstanding payments into one monthly amount that may be less than what is currently being paid out every month.
No one is going to try to sell you anything…it’s just you talking to another human being who wants to help you out.
Pittsburgh Small Business and Redevelopment Manger Henry Horn Pyatt, quoted in the New Pittsburgh Courier
Anyone with any kind of financial issue can take advantage of the FEC’s expert financial counseling. There aren’t any income restrictions. There’s no charge for using the service to make concrete financial plans for reaching personal financial goals.
Meetings were held by phone or virtually by video during the pandemic.
During its first two years, the FEC provided financial counseling services to more than 1,000 people. Eight out of ten client households earned less than the area’s median income and more than half their clients brought in less than than $35,000 a year, according to an FEC Press Release that also reported:
- 304 clients reduced debt by an average of $5,411
- 299 clients increased savings by an average of almost $4,384
The idea behind offering a free public service like the FEC is that improving people’s financial skills and outlook leads to stronger neighborhoods. The FEC was put together by the city and Neighborhood Allies, an organization that works to improve Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Together they hired Advantage Credit Counseling Service, a South Side-based non-profit, to provide staffing. The program is supported with public and private funds.
The model used by the FEC was pioneered by the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which works in dozens of cities across America to implement one-on-one financial counseling as a free public service that helps people and builds stable cities. The model is based on four tenets:
- People in financial trouble need individualized help.
- The help they receive should come from a professionally trained counselor.
- City governments can be a trusted provider in the face of complex choices and scams.
- Financial counseling can lead to referrals to other social services that may improve people’s lives.
The global pandemic has affected people’s finances. Carrick residents have free, one-on-one financial counseling available. To meet with a counselor, they can call 800-298-0237 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.