Shelby County residents now have a place to go for financial counseling that’s free to everyone regardless of income and available for as long as they need it.
The Greater Memphis Financial Empowerment Center has been open six weeks and on Tuesday hosted a grand opening, which brought in local elected officials, nonprofit organization leaders and other center supporters.
“We are just thrilled to open this today. This is a service that Shelby County really needs,” Regina Morrison Newman, county trustee, said.
Support in grants and in-kind contributions have come from the city of Memphis, Shelby County government, nonprofit agencies such as the RISE Foundation, United Way of the Mid-South, The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the Assisi Foundation of Memphis and the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The grant request to the CFE was submitted by former trustee David Lenoir, and that work is coming to fruition, Newman said.
“The whole point of the program is it’s not a program. It’s help for as long as people need it. It is free, one-on-one financial counseling for any Shelby County resident,” Newman said.
The center is Downtown at 254 Court Ave., but there are other co-location sites. And the four trained counselors are mobile.
“We can go where they are financially and physically,” Newman said.
The center now has 85 clients and is prepared to help with banking, establishing and maintaining credit, debt reduction and saving.
This year's budget is about $400,000, Newman said. The CFE will award the Shelby County center $250,000 for this year and next year, she said.
Government can’t solve all of the community’s problems, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.
The team brought together for this project will help families and individuals achieve long-term financial stability, Strickland said.
“This effort will embed financial empowerment strategies into their lives,” he said.
What’s needed now is to spread the word, Strickland said.
“If we were in church, I would ordain all of you,” he said. “We need evangelists out there. We need a line outside these doors of people trying to get in here.”
There is a real need for financial literacy and education across the county, County Mayor Lee Harris added.
“We see it in all walks and all kinds of places,” said Harris, who noted that even county government employees are not taking advantage of available opportunities to save for retirement.
The first financial empowerment center opened in New York City under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said John Murphy, a principal with the CFE, which provides grants and technical support.
Over the past nine years, six other cities, including Nashville, have been participants in the program, Murphy said.
In Nashville, they worked with about 5,000 people who collectively were able to retire about $7 million in debt, save about $1 million and on average and raise their credit scores by 35 points. A 35-point increase in a credit score can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars on a car loan, Murphy said.
This program empowers consumers to make sound financial decisions, he said.
“When people are sick, they don’t go to a workshop on health. They go to see a doctor,” Murphy said. “And financial counseling is a lot like going to see a doctor.”
When a client meets with a counselor, the first thing they go through is a financial health assessment, which helps diagnose what the issues are, he said.
“And based on that diagnosis, the counselor is going to prescribe the right course of action in order to ensure greater financial health,” Murphy said.
The center is at 254 Court Ave., Suite 100. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.