Operation HOPE, GreenPath strive to increase financial literacy

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Metro | Published June 9, 2023

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METRO DETROIT — Many people view money as taboo and tend to keep their financial struggles in the dark. However, nonprofits such as Operation HOPE and GreenPath Financial Wellness are helping those who struggle “to put their money where their mouth is” get on track and reclaim their financial freedom.

The nonprofit Operation HOPE, in partnership with Bank of America, is expanding its HOPE Inside program, which offers free, in-person financial coaching services in 17 markets nationwide and 10 areas across Metro Detroit, including Center Line, Dearborn, Detroit, Lincoln Park and Southfield.

Operation HOPE is a nonprofit dedicated to providing equal and equitable financial opportunities to all since 1992.

Bank of America teamed up with Operation HOPE in 2020 to launch HOPE Inside to help people build savings, improve their credit scores and decrease debt. According to Bank of America, on average, participating clients have “improved their FICO scores by 21 points, increased their yearly savings by $4,313 and reduced their annual debt by $837.” With the success of HOPE Inside at the end of last year, they announced that the program would be expanded to 180 financial centers, including Metro Detroit.

Though the program launched just a little over a month ago in metro Detroit, Reginald Hinton Sr., the vice president and community banking market leader who oversees the program at Bank of America, explained that around 60 clients have scheduled appointments at the participating locations.

“What we hear in my market the most is about how to improve credit. That’s a big one because of the economy right now. Part of our structure and framework, when we’re engaging with clients, is a tool called ‘Life Plan,’ and it’s basically when we are asking probing questions about what’s important to that client so that we are able to offer solutions that are need-based. One of the things that they talk about with the economy is the inability to save. We give them ways that they can save, through various programs, making sure that we put them in the right product, and other things that we are able to guide the conversation to make sure that it’s client-centric so that we’re meeting the immediate and long-term needs of that client.”

HOPE Inside helps individuals become more financially literate through the personalized plan that their banking associate helps to curate for them based on their Life Plan. From there, the client is given resources that help them get on track for the financial goal that they are trying to obtain. Following the first consultation, the banking associate will provide ongoing assistance to the client, answering any questions and supporting them in reaching their goals.

Hinton added that the appointment process is simple — scan a QR code that collects their primary contact information so that “they have everything at their fingertips to our technology to make it easier for our clients to stay connected with us.” Walk-ins are also welcome.

“Through Operation HOPE Inside, with the down payment assistance programs, it’s making some of these clients change their whole mindset about being a homeowner and creating generational wealth in the process. I’m very proud that our company has taken such a stance on making sure that we’re actively engaged in using our resources to do that.”

GreenPath Financial Wellness is another local nonprofit dedicated to making a difference in the lives of those who feel overwhelmed by debt management.

GreenPath was founded in 1961 and was initially part of the Michigan Credit League. Trent Graham, a financial wellness expert, has been with GreenPath for almost 32 years now and states that the biggest evolution he’s seen during his time is the immense growth brought forth by technology, allowing the Farmington-headquartered nonprofit to now serve clients in all 50 states. While most counseling sessions take place over the phone, GreenPath offers in-person sessions at the Detroit location, 2470 Collingwood St.

“Our biggest thing that we started out was providing holistic financial counseling that addresses our clients’ or consumers’ full picture of their financial situation, from housing to utilities, car payments, credit card debt, or any type of other debt as well,” Graham stated.

GreenPath provides free budget counseling sessions to anyone, even if they aren’t struggling financially and are just looking to get ahead of their spending habits. The counseling sessions connect clients with associates to discuss their goals and current financial state, and to create a plan to meet those goals. Clients can then access their plan and track their progress through an online portal on GreenPath’s website.

Graham expressed that one of the most common topics that clients come in looking for help with is credit card debt management.

In 2022, GreenPath managed 49,000 debt management programs. GreenPath is a nationally recognized Housing and Urban Development agency, which allows them to provide pre-purchasing counseling for first-time homebuyers. Graham explained that though GreenPath does not provide financial assistance for down payments, they can provide a certificate that can help buyers with other programs that do provide financial assistance.

For those struggling financially, Graham advises them to take a deep breath and understand that they aren’t alone in this.

“The biggest problem I see clients coming in with is help with these credit cards, because they’re high interest. But really, that’s not the biggest problem that they have. The biggest problem is that if they paid all their bills without using credit cards, they’d be $1,000 short in their budget. So they were using the credit cards to supplement their income.” To remedy this, Graham suggests going through your budget and looking at the cash coming in compared to the cash going out without using credit cards. Seeing where you stand can help you make decisions on what your best option going forward is.

For more information on Bank of America’s HOPE Inside program, visit the Southfield location at 25177 Greenfield Road, or visit https://locators.bankofamerica.com/mi/ to schedule an appointment at one of the participating locations. To learn more about GreenPath’s services, visit www.greenpath.com.