Financial Empowerment – There is help!

by Nick on August 5, 2010

Yesterday on the subway I was listening to my daily personal finance podcast when I noticed an advertisement that made me smile.  (First it made me do a double take, but then it made me smile.)  It was an advertisement for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment.  How cool is that?  There is an Office of Financial Empowerment!  (Maybe some of our politicians could learn a few things there…but I digress).  And the advertisement was specifically for FREE financial counselingHere is the contact information for the Office of Financial Empowerment.

I have no idea how long this has been offered by the City or what exactly they do, but the website contends:

The City’s FREE Financial Empowerment Centers can help you take control of your debt, improve your credit, deal with debt collection, create a budget, open a bank account, and much more. One-on-one financial counseling is provided for FREE by professional counselors in person or by phone in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

Now, let’s take a step back to talk about what I really think about this service and why I’m writing about it. 

What I think of it based on my first read:
There is something to be said about “free advice being worth exactly what you pay for it,” and I’m sure if we took a look at the City of New York’s financial statements there would be things we don’t agree with.  But this is different to me.  There are other industries where people get free help (law and medicine are two that come to mind). 

On the one hand, the people giving that free help are generally folks who charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their time to people who can pay, but enjoy what they do and want to give back to those in need.  On the other hand, some public services are done by overworked public servants who are paid very little.  This doesn’t mean they’re not “good,” but the “overworked” part is not comforting.  It could cause mistakes.  I may give them a call and talk with someone about their program and then write back with a follow-up post.

Why I’m writing about it:
Simple.  Because there is help out there – even free help – to get you to financial freedom.  I know many of you are not in New York City and would not have access to this particular service, but there may be something similar near you.  Check around.  Check your town/city government.  Check your state government.  Call your senators or representatives (Why not?  You may be surprised what their staff knows about services.).  There may be help for you.

Bottom line:
If you’re in the City and want free counseling or other services, consider giving them a call.  Play around on their website and see what else they offer.  There may be something for you.  If you’re not near the City, check your area.  There may be help! 

IMPORTANT NOTE – I DO NOT SUPPORT “CREDIT COUNSELING” (i.e. Debt Consolidation companies like the ones that tell you to stop paying your credit cards, pay them instead and then they’ll save up and negotiate lower payoffs.) 

That is not the “help” I’m talking about.  If anyone ever told me to do that I would immediately run away.  What I’m talking about is legit help.  How can you tell?  It’s tough, but if they ask you to sign up for something, pay them something or something like that, I would be skeptical.  That’s why I would go through government agencies and not private companies for “free” help.  (Did I stress this enough?)

This is my opinion at least.  Does anyone know of legit charitable organizations or other governmental services like this one?

That’s it for now.  Until next time – put the credit card down and slowly step away from the mall!

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