For "Ellen," getting into her own apartment with her child was the first step toward creating a stable living situation, enabling her to focus on digging out of debt.
When single mom “Ellen” applied to Faith Community Homes in spring 2019, she was living in a doubled-up household with other family members and, following an expensive car repair, had no money in the bank. Although she was working full time, her hourly wage was not enough to keep her afloat and pay all the penalties and late fees she faced. She had recently taken out two payday loans.
Low, but not low enough
Ellen falls into the category that describes so many of the families in our program: They make “too much” money to qualify for government assistance such as daycare subsidy, Medicaid or Food Stamps/Link Card. And yet their modest income is not enough to pay for all these expenses out of pocket in addition to regular living expenses. Very few people in this low-but-not-low-enough income bracket can afford to put any money into savings, let alone pay off debt.
After Ellen was accepted into the program, Faith Community Homes paid a portion of her security deposit so she and her child could have a safe, stable apartment of their own. Ellen had some money, but like many families, not enough to put down a security deposit plus first month’s rent. When she moved into her new apartment, her grocery bills immediately decreased because she was cooking only for herself and her child, not the entire house full of people where they had been staying previously.
Budgeting tools help prioritize debts
Soon thereafter, Ellen began weekly meetings with her volunteer mentors. Her mentors introduced different online budgeting programs until they found one that Ellen liked. Getting into the habit of using the app took some time. But eventually Ellen was able to gain a stronger grasp of exactly where her money was going. She got on a schedule to pay her recurring bills on time and set aside a specific amount for savings from each paycheck.
With guidance from her mentors, Ellen made a list of which of her debts to pay off, and in what order. Because of the FCH rent subsidy, Ellen was not paying her entire rent herself. This subsidy freed up some money to put toward paying off old bills. Her payday loans had the highest interest rate, so she paid those off first. Ellen’s mentors coached her on how to negotiate payoff settlements from some of her creditors. By the end of her two years with FCH, Ellen’s credit score increased by 60 points.
During this time, she applied for, and received, a promotion at work, resulting in a raise. Fortunately, Ellen remained employed during the pandemic and put her stimulus check directly into savings. When she finished our program in May 2021, Ellen had a few thousand dollars in the bank.
Overcoming life’s challenges while moving forward
As with all FCH families, life presented Ellen with many challenges during her time in our program. Her car required more repairs. She had to rearrange childcare several times. She had to navigate complicated interpersonal relationships in her family and at work. She even contracted COVID-19 but, fortunately, recovered completely. Despite all these circumstances, Ellen continued to live modestly and chip away at her debt.
When asked what aspect of the FCH program she found most helpful, Ellen responded, “the accountability and the follow-up.” Ellen admits she did not always like having to meet with her mentors, but she recognizes that being accountable to them on a regular basis helped her stay on track with making progress on her financial goals.
Securing her own apartment with the help of Faith Community Homes helped Ellen decrease her living expenses. Combined with her own hard work and perseverance, Ellen was able to improve her financial situation as she learned to use some valuable tools to help her move ahead toward a brighter future.