"Free Money" Program Struggles to Find Takers 

But the nonprofit is having a hard time finding takers.

For some reason, despite the excitement people express when they learn about it during an introduction to the program, few follow up and enroll, says Donna Stallings, coordinator of the Asset Development Center.

"They're there, they're excited," Stallings says, "but something happens between when they leave that class and they get home."

It works like this: People who hold a steady job and meet the income requirements — no more than $19,600 for a single person, for instance, or $33,200 for a single parent of two — are eligible for the program. All one has to do is decide what to save for — a house, a business or education — develop a plan and open a savings account.

"We match $2 for every dollar that they deposit," Stallings explains. The maximum monthly contribution for an individual is $84, to which New Visions adds $168; the minimum is $20 per month. Over two to three years, the maximum individual savings is $2,000, to which New Visions contributes $4,000.

New Visions is reluctant to call it "free money," but that's what it is, Stallings says. "Who wouldn't want the opportunity to get that, if they're qualified?"

So why aren't more signing up? Some people might be worried about having New Visions examine their tax returns and credit reports, Stallings speculates. Or perhaps their reluctance stems from a distrust of banks and financial institutions in general.

Stallings tries to calm those fears by discussing her own financial history and how she improved her credit and bought a home. If participants miss a month's deposit or go through temporary financial hardship, Stallings works with them to try to keep them in the program.

Thus far, New Visions, which currently has 25 women enrolled in the savings program, has seen a few success stories. One woman is about to invest three years' worth of savings in her business selling Muslim clothing, Stallings says.

To get more people enrolled, Stallings is holding an information session May 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the downtown YMCA on West Franklin Street.

"If I can get five people to get out of debt or stop going to check-cashing places … then we're doing something," Stallings says. S



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