Below are a few “Success Stories” achieved by the Houston Financial Empowerment Center clients. The clients have agreed to share their success stories and their names have been changed to protect their privacy. Financial Empowerment Center services are always free and confidential to our community.
SAVING FOR MY DAUGHTER’S EDUCATIONAL FUTURE
Rose, a single mother of three children, was working at the Children’s Hospital in The Woodlands when she learned of the Houston Financial Empowerment Center. Rose met with a Financial Counselor at Acres Home Multi-Service Center and learned that she could improve her credit and could save her hard-earned dollars towards her daughter’s education.
Then her oldest daughter, Sadie, received the best news. She was accepted to Baylor University starting Fall 2020. With her daughter’s decision to enroll in Baylor, Rose was geared to start saving for her daughter’s tuition and housing fees. With her daughter’s scholarship and grant money, Rose is only responsible for $5,000 in housing expenses. Rose met with her Financial Counselor and together they were able to enroll Rose into an Educational IDA.
An IDA is an Individual development account. It is a type of savings account designed to help low-income individuals build assets, achieve financial stability, and gain long term self-sufficiency. Many people use IDA’s to pay for school. Rose was enrolled in this program and is almost at her goal of saving $5,000.
We are so proud of how much commitment and strength Rose has had to save so much in such short time. Rose has continued to save bi-weekly and will continue to strive to save for her retirement.
DANNY’S FINANCIAL JOURNEY
Finding out that he would be receiving more than $3,000 from his Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Danny was smiling from ear to ear.
“When my volunteer tax preparer informed me about how much money I was getting back, my heart fluttered. I’m so grateful for the Harris County FREE TAX PREP program that helped me prepare my taxes accurately and get this refund,” said Danny.
At first, Danny didn’t know that he was eligible for any EITC until he met with an IRS-certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteer tax preparer at the Acres Home Multi-Service Center, one of the Harris County FREE TAX PREP locations.
The VITA volunteer tax preparer walked him through the federal and state tax return process, explaining every step of the way, making sure Danny was able to keep more of his hard-earned money.
After preparing his taxes, Danny went to the Houston Financial Empowerment Center. Curious by what we do, he was met with a friendly smile from his Financial Counselor. She introduced herself and asked how he heard about the program. Danny showed her a flyer he received from the VITA Office down the hall.
The Financial Counselor told Danny about the many services the HFEC program offers. Before leaving that afternoon, Danny made an appointment with the Financial Counselor for the following day.
Working with the Financial Counselor, Danny was able to place a small portion of his tax return into a TWIN Account, an account that can build up credit to raise your credit score and establish good credit history. It matched Danny $300 for the $300 he saved in a year, meaning Danny saved a total of $600.
The Financial Counselor was also able to develop a unique, individualized service plan to help Danny reduce his monthly credit card payments. Danny was able to consolidate his student loans and enroll in a student loan forgiveness program, only paying $20.00 a month.
Danny would have never been able to save so much had his curiosity not lead him to the Houston Financial Empowerment Center. “So glad I am so nosy,” Danny said.
We are too Danny! The Financial Counselor has continued to work with Danny and has kept in touch consistently since COVID-19.
LEO’S LEAD LED TO ASSISTANCE THROUGH FINANCIAL COUNSELING
Growing up, Leo’s life was turbulent and he found himself in a series of bad decisions which led to a severe accident causing him to have burns throughout his body. Now, forty percent of his body is severely damaged and he is unable to work due to the fire accident.
Leo has been receiving Disability Assistance since his accident. He says, “I’m happy to be alive! I thought I was going to die!”
Leo heard about the Houston Financial Empowerment Center from a neighbor who informed him that the HFEC is a free public service and could help him with resources to increase his credit score and bring down his debt. Leo was also hoping for some assistance in paying his rent. Leo is on a limited income, receiving only his disability check monthly. Prior to COVID-19, Leonard would do a few little odd jobs here and there for extra money, however; because of COVID-19 he has had to rely solely on his disability check.
When he heard Harris County was assisting with rental assistance he was relieved, however still unsure if he would qualify. He called the number on the flyer his neighbor gave him, and his call was answered by Maria Franco.
Maria, the HFEC’s Administrator/Data Specialist, was able to inform Leo of the HFEC’s services and scheduled an appointment with a Bilingual Financial Counselor. Since clients are not being seen face to face, the Financial Counselor was able to have her session with him over the phone. The Financial Counselor reviewed Leo’s monthly expenses and discovered he was eligible for rental assistance through Baker Ripley.
Building Blocks to Change
When Ellen came to the Houston Financial Empowerment Center, she was relatively new to her job and had taken a pay cut due to COVID-19. She had just moved into a new apartment, and didn’t want to jeopardize her finances by falling into the cycle of playing catch-up. Ellen met with a Financial Counselor who identified qualifying financial assistance programs and assisted her during her financial hardship.
With her Financial Counselor’s help, Ellen applied for financial assistance, budgeted for the upcoming month, negotiated payment arrangements for her vehicle, and established an account dedicated to her utilities. She realized that the prepaid plan she was on, caused her to spend twice the amount compared to a set rate plan. Since Ellen’s initial and subsequent sessions, she is now working towards her savings goals and is planning for her financial future.
Hannah’s Leap of Faith for Generations
When Hannah came to the Houston Financial Empowerment Center, she had an end goal in mind to obtain financial stability. Hannah made financial missteps in her past that affected her future and livelihood, but she was a determined individual. Hannah already had some knowledge of what was needed to secure her financial future but decided to take a leap of faith and ask for help to put her knowledge into an actionable plan. As a team, Hannah and her Financial Counselor made strides towards understanding the ebb and flow of income and expenses, quickly learning to identify money traps that she didn’t even realize were around. As a result of the HFEC guidance, Hannah has made wise financial decisions that have positively affected her long-term financial health. She can now pass her financial knowledge down to her own children for their own financial well-being.
Stedman’s Change for the Better
Growing up in the small town of Cuero, Texas, Stedman learned very little about responsible living and working to meet financial obligations. Instead, he immersed himself in the darkness of gang culture at an early age, and it wasn’t long before his misdeeds culminated in a 15-year prison sentence at just 20 years old.
Inspired by the unconditional love of family and his commitment to change, Stedman decided to leave the gang life behind and instead use the stumbling block of prison as a stepping stone toward a better future.
Shortly after being accepted into the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), his love for learning led him to the Oliver J. Bell Unit, in Cleveland, TX. After graduating from PEP’s business and life skills program, he began working on his finances as a client of the City of Houston’s Financial Empowerment Center (HFEC), which helped him gain a better understanding of credit and other personal finance topics.
Understanding that establishing and maintaining a good credit profile would be pivotal to finding housing, securing employment, and a host of other challenges faced by our returning citizens, so Stedman worked with the HFEC financial counselors and began building his credit before release. Before long, Stedman went from having no credit score to achieving a 763-credit score within just three short months of his incarceration release.
Stedman is now gainfully employed and focused on giving back—not only to his family who faithfully supported him through his incarceration—but society at large. He now looks forward to each new day with hope and expectation, proud of how his commitment to change in every area of his life has yielded great dividends for today and tomorrow.
Stedman continues to work one-on-one with his Financial Counselor and credits the HFEC for giving him a new lease on life. Stedman’s life is now drastically different than the one he once knew as a young gang member in Cuero, Texas.