Posted by Michael Ibanez

April is Financial Literacy MonthIn the depths of the worst economic times our country had seen in more than eighty years, President Barack Obama declared April "Financial Literacy Month" starting in 2010. Few Americans believed that the "great recession" would linger this long. Who could have seen it coming? More importantly, how does one maintain stability during tough financial times? The answer is to be prepared.

The Department of Treasury defines financial literacy as "the ability to understand money and how to manage it so that a person can make informed financial decisions." Naturally, financial literacy is a broad topic, and it is nearly impossible to understand every aspect of it. That also means there is always a way to improve financial well-being. Every day I meet with individuals and families to address month-to-month spending, saving, identity theft, debt collection, monitoring, and improving credit.

As part of the JF&CS Center for Family Assistance, the Financial Literacy program is only one piece of a resourceful puzzle. A households' overall stability is deeply impacted by daily financial decisions and the numbers show there is a great need for financial education at this time. Developing a spending plan, setting goals, and setting money aside on a regular basis can help address the 35% of Massachusetts households considered "liquid asset poor," or lacking the financial resources needed in the event of an emergency. Meanwhile, working with some of the 46% of state residents who have subprime credit to negotiate payment plan or prioritizing their debts can have a profound impact on a family's financial flexibility. By helping an individual negotiate a settlement with a debt collector, we can alleviate financial stress and create more credit opportunities with a cleaner credit history.

April is often considered a month of new beginnings. My advice in the face of an uphill financial struggle is to take the first step. Start by understanding where you are financially, find areas to improve, set goals, and outline a process to better the situation. Rest assured, help is only an email or phone call away!

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.

Michael Ibanez is the Financial Literacy Specialist with the JF&CS Center for Family Assistance. Michael came to JF&CS from AmeriCorps Financial Support Services, providing financial coaching primarily for individuals with disabilities. He is currently in his fifth year serving as a volunteer through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and earned a bachelors degree in accounting from UMass Amherst in 2010.