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Banks digitize financial literacy programs

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Bankers and financial coaches in the Lehigh Valley are promoting a range of financial literacy programs through web sites, blogs and presentations at schools, colleges and businesses.

They are also directing customers to apps and web sites that promise to educate people of all ages about managing money, saving money, borrowing money and eliminating debt.

Gabriel Rendon, founder and executive director of Financial Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, travels to schools and businesses to teach students – many of them in high school – about financial wellness through a course that includes an interactive game. His services are free, but schools can donate to his organization.

Rendon, who plans to open an office in Allentown, said that the game he plays is hands-on and involves participants working together and independently. They are educated on how to develop a budget, make investments and manage expenses, as well as on the ways they might accumulate debt.

Rendon said he recommends several financial literacy apps and web sites for people who need financial assistance. They include Investopedia.com, Mint.com, NerdWallet.com, and Bankrate.com.

He said that NerdWallet is one of his favorites since the site allows users to narrow down the credit cards and even bank accounts that suit their needs and lifestyle.

Mint.com is also another good tool for people, he said, since it takes all their accounts and financial information, links them together to give a snapshot of net worth and syncs a user’s transaction history.

Earlier this year, First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, based in Hanover Township, Northampton County, launched an entire “microsite dedicated to financial wellness, which offers financial wellness resources from different perspectives – online, at work, at school and in-center,” according to the credit union’s CEO and president, Donna LoStocco.

The credit union offers financial wellness resources, tools and e-courses for members and non-members to make better decisions. Courses include financial basics, major life transactions, retirement planning, buying a home and managing one’s finances for the future.

LoStocco said that First Commonwealth also offers tips on its web site and financial calculators for online users. The calculator determines the interest saved by refinancing an auto loan, how one would go about saving $1 million, determining how to manage credit card debt, getting information about home equity loans and figuring out balance transfers to save money.

In addition, First Commonwealth has trained its employees to become certified wellness coaches, and the credit union sends out employees to do financial literacy presentations, lunch-and-learn programs and seminars at businesses. Topics include purchasing a first home, retirement-income planning, budgeting for financial independence, saving to achieve goals, protecting oneself from identify theft and understanding credit reports and scores.

Kim Detwiler, a senior vice president and director of corporate communications At Univest Corp. of Pennsylvania, said that the Souderton-based bank has a “very robust blog” on its web site.

In addition, students at all grade levels can take advantage of the financial literacy programs that the bank offers.

“We reached just over 5,400 students last year,” through financial literacy programs, Detwiler said.

In Berks County, David W. Patti, a spokesman for Customers Bank, said the financial institution uses Twitter to distribute financial education information but also will go to schools to teach subjects such as how to balance a checkbook, what is a credit score, why a good credit score matters and things to look for when applying for any kind of loan.

At Wells Fargo, spokeswoman Mary Berg said the financial institution provides individuals with a free financial education program in English and Spanish, and there are financial literacy tips available on Wells Fargo’s mobile app to help customers pay their bills on time, spend with confidence and build savings. The bank has several locations throughout Eastern Pennsylvania.

Michelle Abel, community consultant at PNC Bank, which also has locations in the Lehigh Valley, provides financial education highlights on its Achievement Sessions link found on its Web site. The link gives unique insights as to how to earn extra income in college, how to manage student loans, how to budget for a vacation, how military families can protect their finances, how to fund a business and how to understand one’s finances at any age.

“We have a virtual wallet online for anyone who has a checking or savings account at the bank. It gives a holistic approach to looking at your wealth,” Abel said.

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