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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Project offers guidance on budgeting, saving

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Money was an enigma to Bruce Morre.

The 41-year-old Toledoan didn't keep track of where he spent his monthly Social Security allowance, and he didn't have a savings account.

"I had never budgeted my money before, as far as writing it down and seeing what you have left over," he said.

Lacking a strong financial background, Mr. Morre thought he'd never be able to take his dream cruise or get his car fixed. It all seemed out of reach, he said.

But, with the help of a program called Bank On Toledo, Mr. Morre said he's socking money away each month to achieve his goals.

"I can afford things," he said.

Bank On Toledo is a collaboration involving the city, United Way of Greater Toledo, community outreach organizations, and at least 11 financial institutions. Its aim is to educate people on how to budget money and use savings and checking accounts.

The program is in more than 60 cities across the country and came to Toledo in mid-2011, said Norris Finley, director of Bank On Toledo. Hundreds of people have participated in it.

"We're trying to capture that whole demographic of people who need a little polishing up with their finances," he said.

Many low-income people are leery of banks because they've racked up fees or had to close accounts in the past, Mr. Finley said. With the proper training on how to manage a monthly budget, anyone can have a checking or savings account and avoid problems, he added.

"It doesn't matter even if you've messed up an account before, you still can open up a Bank On Toledo account," he said. "It's very, very flexible.

"It sets up enough flexibility for people to use the account but not enough for them to hurt themselves on a regular basis."

The banks and credit unions participating in the program offer no-fee or low-fee accounts.

Mr. Norris is not affiliated with any of the financial institutions and said people should choose a program that fits their lifestyle.

There is no right or wrong account, he said.

"The first thing I tell them is, and what I make clear is, I do not represent the banks," Mr. Norris said. "Bank On is a program that the banks are participating in. There are many people that have had bad experiences with financial institutions."

Linda Ewing, senior vice president of community affairs at Fifth Third Bank, said it took part in Bank On Toledo because it teaches people they can save for college, a car, or whatever they desire. Fiscal responsibility isn't hard, but it is something that has to be learned, she added.

"We all have community development responsibilities," Ms. Ewing said. "We have been doing these things for a long time. What I like about the Bank On concept is we reach more people as a coalition. It broadens the marketing approach to building savings and wealth."

Many of the people who take part in Bank On programs have taken out payday loans or cashed their paychecks for a fee, said Valerie Moffitt of United North, a North Toledo community development organization that participates in the program. Bank On tries to move these people into traditional forms of banking, which can save them hundreds of dollars a year.

"The common barrier that people are facing is a lack of knowledge that this exists and they have the ability to go open a checking account at a mainstream institution," she said. "Going to check cashiers or taking out money orders -- they feel like they are beholden to these practices. They don't feel like there is a way they can re-enter these mainstream financial institutions."

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.


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