Friends for Financial Freedom

United Way of Southeast Mississippi’s financial stability program, Friends for Financial Freedom, was formed in March of 2009 to serve people in Forrest, Lamar, and Perry counties. Friends for Financial Freedom has recently formed the Individual Development Account Program. I recently sat down with Janice K. Swiggum, Friends for Financial Freedom Program Coordinator, and Stacy M. Thompson, Assistant Vice President with Bancorp South. They explained the IDA program in detail. IDA is a special matched savings account for people with low to moderate incomes. These accounts are designed to help families and individuals of modest means establish a pattern of regular savings and, ultimately, purchase a “productive asset”. A “productive asset” is something of value that is likely to return substantial long-term benefits to its owner. While your paycheck helps you to buy food and clothing and pay your bills each month, an asset provides financial security for the future.

Typically, IDA savings and match money can be used to buy a house, pay for education, or start a small business. The FFF IDA program will offer a four-to-one savings match, meaning that for every dollar a participant saves as part of the program, he or she will be eligible to receive another four dollars. The maximum match that a participant will be eligible to receive is $4,000.

Savings matches are not “giveaways”. Participants earn savings matches by saving their own hard earned money and taking other steps to prepare for their future like attending personal finance classes. These classes help to give people the tools they need to change negative spending habits. Janice Swiggum put it like this, “The value behind the whole program really is the ability to support people, it’s not just getting people into the classroom and saying here is the magic potion… It’s more about establishing a relationship. To allow them to understand that they can control it and that they can make some changes in their life.” IDA Programs benefit more than just those enrolled because participants conclude the program with a financial education and a productive asset to provide for themselves and their families which benefits the entire community.

The grant money comes from The Office of Community Services in The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is called the AFI grant, which stands for Assets forIndependence. Funds are matched through community partners including Bancorp South Bank, The First Bank, and The United Way ofSoutheast Mississippi. The operational money needed to continue to teach the money management classes is provided by a City ofHattiesburggrant called the Community Development Block Grant. Classes in Jones andJasperCountyare taught at Magnolia State Bank.

This grant opportunity ends in August of 2015. There are income limitations to be eligible. Participants are required to commit to make monthly savings deposits of at least $10, save in the program for at least 6 months, complete the RealCents Money Management class, and complete all asset specific training and counseling. If you or someone you know might benefit from this program contact Janice K. Swiggum, Program Coordinator, at 601-450-4622.