It’s one of the most exciting days in anyone’s life — the day they close on the purchase of a home of their own.
Josh O’Gara knows what that excitement is like, and he and his fellow advisors want to help more people experience it. But they know the path to homeownership sometimes is filled with rocks and detours. Having a plan for becoming a homeowner can smooth the path, but people need help in mapping out that plan. It can be even more difficult to do that when you’re homeless. That’s where O’Gara and his friends come in.
O’Gara is the owner and founder of O’Gara Financial Group in Woburn, Mass. He and some of his fellow members of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors-Massachusetts volunteer their time and expertise to work with F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement, a nonprofit organization based in Boston. The organization’s mission is to help families transition out of homeless shelters and into stable and permanent living arrangements by teaching and mentoring homeless youths and families on how to become financially independent to end generational poverty and homelessness. O’Gara and the other NAIFA-Massachusetts volunteers work with families in the organization’s Homeless to Homeownership program.
Families who go through the program have already transitioned out of a homeless shelter into more stable housing. They are mentored on topics such as debt management, saving and budgeting. The future homeowners also are educated on the financial implications of homeownership, such as making sure to budget funds for property taxes, homeowners insurance and repairs.
“We work with the families to establish good credit, make sure they’re saving money each month to pay down debt,” O’Gara said. “There are certain metrics they need to meet, such as having a credit score over 610, saving at least 5% to 10% of their income each month and having a certain debt-to-income ratio. If they hit those goals, they qualify for down payment assistance of up to $5,000.”
Guiding homeless families to become tomorrow’s homeowning families is one example of how insurance and financial professionals spend their time and share their knowledge to educate the public on financial literacy issues. And there’s a hunger for that knowledge.
A OnePoll survey of parents revealed that four out of five said they wish they had learned more about money when they were growing up. Thirteen percent said their parents never spoke to them about money at all. The result is that nearly 60% of those surveyed said they still feel uncomfortable talking about money today.
O’Gara sees the need for financial education and how much the families he works with in Homeless to Homeownership need the confidence that financial literacy gives them.
“When we first sit down and talk to them, the goal of homeownership just seems so far-fetched to them,” he said. “They feel as though they’re so far away from owning their own home. But now we’ve had our first family go through the program and purchase their house, and that’s bolstering the confidence of the other families in the program.”
Helping Teens Become Moneywise
Andrew Crowell is vice chairman, wealth management, with D.A. Davidson in Los Angeles. He regularly works with wealthy clients, but through his volunteer work with youth groups in the LA metro area, he saw that an entire generation could be future clients for his industry if they only had the right financial education.
“We’re sending 18-year-olds into the world without basic life skills like financial literacy,” Crowell said. “I realized that I have the ability to close the gap. I can bring the subject matter that we discuss every day for the paying clients of our holistic wealth management firm to an audience of inner-city kids or foster kids who aren’t getting that education at home or as part of their school curriculum.”
Crowell started by asking the heads of the finance departments at three universities to ask whether any of their students would be interested in shadowing someone at his company. But he realized that offer didn’t go far enough to reach young people who needed financial literacy education.
“I was reaching out to kids who are in college, but what about the kids who don’t go to college? They still need this basic life skill. So that’s where I started focusing my time,” he said. “I thought I can be ‘professor for a day,’ maybe several times a year. And that’s great. But it’s probably more of a benefit to D.A. Davidson because we’re telling kids about our summer internship program and career opportunities with us.”
Crowell wanted to dig deeper into providing financial literacy education for young people who needed it. So he created the Moneywise program in 2018. D.A. Davidson partnered with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles to share knowledge of personal finance to 6,000 teens who already were coming to the Y for various healthy lifestyle activities.
COVID-19 restrictions forced the Moneywise program to go virtual in 2020, and Crowell said the pandemic reinforced his belief that the program provides crucial information and needed to expand even further.
“The pandemic was highlighting the income gaps that are out there even more profoundly,” he said. “We saw how the pandemic created economic stress. I believed we needed to take what we do in Moneywise and bring it to other groups who aren’t getting that kind of education. We did an open call to associates throughout our firm to see whether we could generate interest. We had 46 people volunteer to look for opportunities in their communities to take the Moneywise curriculum we developed and tailor it to other groups who needed the information.”
D.A. Davidson associates brought Moneywise to clients of a women’s shelter in Montana, a school in Denver, and Boys & Girls Clubs in California.
“It has been fun to see the program expanding,” Crowell said. “It’s doing the right thing for a constituency who needs it and who isn’t getting it in school or at home.”
The Moneywise curriculum includes modules on money basics, getting your first job and understanding your first paycheck, understanding investments and compound interest, and learning how to pay for college.
Part of Moneywise, Crowell said, is getting the teenage participants to talk about their views on money. “We start off by asking, ‘What’s important about money to you?’ One person might say they’re saving for a car, and another might say they want to be able to go to concerts, and somebody else is saying they need to help their family out. We try to identify where they are at the current time in regard to money and why they are prioritizing money.”
Moneywise “is a small investment of time that could change the trajectory of a lot of students’ lives,” Crowell said.
“It’s a tragedy to me that financial literacy isn’t a requirement for all high school graduates,” he said. “My hope is that, by doing this, we elevate an awareness of how important it is so we will have some policy changes down the road where schools prioritize it.”
Crowell recalled the old math class problem where two trains are traveling toward each other at different speeds and students are asked to calculate which train will arrive at a destination first. He said those old math problems should be changed to reflect today’s realities.
“Wouldn’t it be more important to teach students about what happens when you pay only the minimum on your credit card each month? How many months will it take you to pay your credit card off at 14% interest is way more relevant. Meanwhile, advisors have a golden opportunity to change lives by teaching financial literacy lessons.”
Helping Our Heroes
Many Americans find rewarding careers in the military. But when they leave the service — then what?
Paul McAneny and Indira Cozine of 1847 Financial in Tampa, Fla., not only have a large client base of military personnel who are transitioning to civilian life, but they also volunteer their time to educating veterans on financial issues. The two advisors have a special affinity for the military community. McAneny spent 27 years in the Air Force before entering the financial services business; Cozine is a former mathematics teacher whose husband retired from the Marine Corps.
They volunteer with the Military Officers of America, speaking at their monthly meetings about financial issues that are relevant to their members’ situations.
“We’ve talked to them about the benefits of getting their estate plan in order and making sure that they have a will, a living will or health care directive, and a durable power of attorney in place, and the importance of getting those things in place. And we educate them about reviewing these documents regularly because things change,” Cozine said. “We also talk to them about ensuring that once they’re in retirement, making sure their money lasts throughout their lifetime.”
MOA holds a quarterly event for members of the military who are retiring to civilian life, and McAneny and Cozine volunteer to speak on financial topics that are important as they move to the next phase of their lives.
“We talk about changes in their tax situation once they retire, as well as laying a firm foundation for themselves in retirement,” Cozine said. “Setting themselves up for their second retirement is really crucial for this particular group because most of them have served in the military for 20-25 years. Now they’re in their 40s, and they still have another 15-20 years to work in their next career. We want to give them strategies they can use to make sure they’re setting up their next retirement appropriately.”
McAneny and Cozine also volunteer with Hiring Our Heroes, which was organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“We put together a program called Thriving After Military Service,” McAneny said. “It’s all about figuring out what you need to know after you’ve served in the military for 20-some years and you retire. Now when you’re out of the military, you get a military retirement, maybe you get VA disability benefits, and you’ll get your salary from whatever your next job will be.
“Now figuring out your financial situation isn’t as simple as you think. A lot of the military pay is not taxed. We show them how to figure out what’s the minimum amount they’ll need to make in their next job in order to maintain the standard of living they had when they were in the military.”
The time McAneny spent in the Air Force inspired him to be “mission-focused” in educating people on financial literacy.
“We have a mission to help people in the military,” he said. “Sometimes that mission doesn’t always align with making money. But that’s OK; we’re here to do things differently and to serve.”
Taking It To The Schools
A request from a college intern’s professor sparked the idea for a financial literacy program that EP Wealth Advisors of Torrance, Calif., created four years ago and took to schools throughout California.
“We had an intern who said her professor wanted someone from EP to talk to the class,” said Erin Voisin, managing director. “We brought that request to our women’s initiative group here at EP and asked if anyone was interested doing it, and about seven of us raised our hands. So, we did what women do, which was rolled up our sleeves, created a presentation, made some handouts, and went out and gave this presentation.”
The students were so engaged in the presentation that the advisors were inspired to take it a step further, Voisin said.
“The kids were so into it, and we all left saying, ‘This is awesome. We could really make this a thing. Let’s do it,’” she recalled.
The advisors did what so many advisors already do in their course of their jobs — they made cold calls. But this time, they cold-called schools, offering to come in and present a financial literacy class. “We said to the schools, ‘This is something we would love to come in and do. And we started getting tons of responses saying they would love to have that happen,” Voisin said.
The presentations cover everything from goal setting to budgeting and investing. But Voisin said the advisors also discuss careers in the industry. “It’s a way for us to be out there and show young women that it’s a profession,” she said.
The financial literacy program grew to the point where it became an initiative of the entire company, not just the women’s initiative group.
“We expanded and opened this up to the whole firm, and we started doing presentations in different geographic areas,” Voisin said. “We’re taking advantage of any opportunity we have to get in front of students.”
Finding that first job and applying to college are top of mind among most of the students who participate in the financial literacy program, she added.
“Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about cryptocurrency and NFTs,” she said. “I think it’s because of what young people see on social media. But we try to steer them toward news versus noise. Like you really need to focus on your goals; what are you actually working for? What will you use your money for? And from there, think about priorities such as your emergency fund.”
EP Wealth Advisors also started an externship, where students can spend two days with the firm. The two days include an ice cream social, where the students are required to network and introduce themselves to everyone at the firm.
“They learn business communication and etiquette. They prepare a resume. They do a mock interview,” Voisin said. “They meet with every director at the firm. They have a lunch with our founders. They play a stock market game. We help them set up a LinkedIn profile. We teach them about financial terms. It’s immersing them in financial services as well as the business world.”
The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the information the financial literacy program conveys, Voisin said. The teachers do as well.
“I was doing a presentation in a school and the students weren’t asking questions, but the teachers were,” she recalled. “Later, one of the teachers told me, ‘We all know that this is needed in the schools, but we don’t feel like we’re the ones to teach it if we’re not comfortable with it ourselves. If my finances aren’t in order, why am I going to tell a high school student how to do it?’
“I always share that story because I remind everyone that our profession is meaningful, and the knowledge you have could be so impactful to someone else.”