By Gwen Awoyade
Returning to the community after time in jail or prison can be daunting. While many people appreciate their freedom, some also may feel overwhelmed by how many things they need to do. The first things most people want to do are find work, housing, and transportation, but to do any of that you need a bank account. Financial institutions run a report to see if applicants have a criminal record. If they do, most banks will not allow you to open an account.
There are some organizations that can help. In Cuyahoga County, Towards Employment (TE) offers career readiness training, career coaching, and assistance with financial issues. TE’s Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) has a full range of services to assist individuals as they work to get back on their feet financially.
Once enrolled in TE’s Career Readiness Training programs, individuals are eligible to participate in the FOC. Once a person signs up for services, they can participate in one-on-one personal finance coaching, get help resolving current financial situations, and gain information about smart budgeting and banking products.
In the FOC, a financial counselor helps program participants review their credit report. The counselor will identify items that should not be in the report. A lot of people returning to the community have items on their credit reports due to actions of family members, spouses, etc. while the individual was incarcerated. Some individuals may have had credit before they were incarcerated, but since they couldn’t pay their bills due to not working, their credit has been negatively affected.
The financial counselor will also identify banks and credit unions that offer second chance accounts, allowing individuals to open new accounts. Once their credit has improved, these institutions can then offer loans.
Financial counseling can be intensive work – counselors meet with individuals multiple times in order to help them open accounts, address issues on their credit reports, and learn smart budgeting. All this work is worth the investment, as this program really helps people get their lives back on track.
Learn more at towardsemployment.org.
This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 39, Issue 1, in May 2023. See full issue at this link: “The Alert”- Volume 39, Issue 1 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.