Few topics are so crucial yet so neglected as financial literacy. I went to a pretty good public high school. It was high-performing, well-funded and most of us graduated. And yet, I don’t recall spending a single class period delving into the mysteries of finance. I took calculus, AP Physics, AP government, advanced English classes and even something called “Business Management.” Perhaps financial literacy has fallen through the cracks of traditional class subjects, but I’m puzzled as to why, with all my high-level coursework, I never once learned about credit scores or mortgages or banking options. It seems these topics have the greatest real-life applications for anyone regardless of career track.
Even working through two Bachelor’s programs with extensive “liberal education requirements,” never was the term “financial literacy” dropped in one of my classrooms. Apart from my major areas of study, I took classes in psychology, physics, math, history, theater, biology and sociology. I took four semesters of German, and the only phrases I’ve retained are “Ich heiße Stephen” and “Ich habe hunger.” I graduated knowing absolutely nothing about IRAs, Schumer boxes or credit unions. For most people, knowing how to create a budget or how to take advantage of online banking is probably more useful than the ability to ask for Schnitzel 5,000 miles from home.
It wasn’t until I began working for NerdWallet that I could finally declare myself financially literate. But sadly, most people will not go on to work at personal finance websites. Their money is at the mercy of inadequate public school systems and incomplete college educations. Fortunately, a handful of people have recognized this shortcoming and have stepped in to fill the gap. In this article, we highlight 10 outstanding financial literacy and credit counseling organizations that are working with communities to spread vital knowledge and resources. To all who made our list and to those working toward a similar cause, we would like to say thank you. Keep up the good work.
We’ll start with one of our favorites: Operation Hope. Operation Hope brings education and empowerment to underserved communities. They recognize the need for equal access to resources in a high-functioning capitalistic society. Operating at the community, family and individual level, Hope provides education and credit counseling to bring dignity and opportunity to low-income communities. We really like their “Business in a Box” initiative, which allows students to choose from a handful of small business models and pitch the idea to a panel for the opportunity to fund and grow a business. The program fosters mentoring, which is essential to instilling healthy economic values in young people. Great work.
Like Operation Hope, MoneyThink knows that solving financial illiteracy means talking to kids. MoneyThink is structured entirely around mentorship. Their nationwide program sends trained college students to mentor urban high schoolers. The mentors help students develop financial prowess and entrepreneurial values. The MoneyThink curricula are expertly crafted introductions to personal finance and business development that never forget their audience. Children are the future, as the adage goes. No one knows it better than MoneyThink.
Springboard comprises a crack team of credit counselors in 7 different states. As a nonprofit organization, they’re able to offer free personal finance education to individuals in need. With debt, bankruptcy and housing counseling, Springboard delivers advice to people looking to improve their financial situation. We like Springboard because they are not incentivized to sell you particular financial products. Their advice is informed, unbiased and won’t cost a penny.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling
Including the NFCC on this list is sort of mandatory. With NFCC Agency Members in all 50 states (and Puerto Rico), the organization is ubiquitous. Basically, the NFCC ensures community credit counselors across the country conform to certain standards. An agency with NFCC accreditation is an agency you can trust. Many of their members offer free services, counseling folks in topics from budgeting to debt management. When seeking a credit counselor, check for accrediation. A COA certification will guarantee you’re in good hands.
Another nonprofit credit counselor, Clearpoint offers topnotch financial education and advice. With offices in 12 states (from California to Florida), Clearpoint’s services are free online, over the telephone or in person. Perhaps our favorite thing about Clearpoint is its relationship with credit unions. Recognizing the need for strong, friendly, locally based financial institutions, Clearpoint maintains partnerships with dozens of credit unions nationwide. Yay credit unions!
Consolidated Credit Counseling Services
Winner of the 2012 Excellence in Financial Literacy Education Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award (that’s a mouthful), Consolidated Credit Counseling Services is admirable for its commitment to community and education. The programs are solid and proven, and extensive relationships with nonprofits and charities has fostered financial literacy across the country. The CCCS website is one of the most accessible and comprehensive out there. If you need financial help, head over immediately and get quick advice how and when you need it.
Advantage Credit Counseling Service offers free debt and credit counseling. Why trust Advantage? 40 years of nonprofit work and 400,000 consumers cleared of debt says is all. We like Advantage for both its nonprofit work and its extensive online credit counseling program. Unlike other agencies, Advantage’s online counseling offers personalized advice accessible from whatever screen you’re reading this article. They also have a great database of extremely useful finance articles (NerdWallet is slightly jealous).
Yet another nonprofit counseling agency, InCharge is well-practiced in all walks of financial advice. With quality online resources and a variety of easily accessible services, InCharge offers superior counseling. We greatly admire their work with the US military. They operate MilitaryMoney.com, which is an invaluable resource in aiding service men and women. The site provides information geared towards military personnel, including but not limited to the GI Bill and military benefits. Thank you, InCharge, for providing a much needed service to the folks in uniform.
Another organization offering unbiased financial advice is Financial Finesse. These guys are a little different from the our other organizations, but we wanted to include a recommendation for companies and credit unions. With retirement, benefit and financial well-being programs, Finesse offers counseling in virtually any financial category. Programs are custom designed to fit company needs. We like Finesse because, again, their aim is education, not sales of financial products.
CESI Debt Solutions
We’ll finish off with one more counseling organization that offers help with debt, housing and bankruptcy. CESI, recognized as one of the Most Dependable Credit and Debt Professionals by Goldline Research’s consumer survey, is fully committed to eradicating debt. They also have an excellent online curriculum complete with quizzes for people making an earnest attempt to teach themselves the ins and outs of finance. Tools like this are indispensable. People striving for improvement should have the ability to do so free of charge from the privacy and comfort of home. Nicely done, CESI.