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A new generation leading at La Luz



A new executive director, two new young and enthusiastic board leaders and a smashing sell-out, annual fundraiser that raised $600,000. Sonoma’s family services and community engagement nonprofit La Luz Center is on a roll.

New ED Leonardo Lobato happily attended his first La Luz Noche party prior to his official Aug. 23 start date.

“I felt the warmth, friendliness and welcoming of Sonoma,” Lobato told the Index-Tribune. “Support and participation are instrumental for La Luz in delivering its programs and services to the Latinx community.”

The “Summer of Love” themed event attended by 350 guests was held at the Sparc cannabis farm on Trinity Road.

In interviews prior to the event, new board president Nick Mendelson-Ontiveros and new board vice president Jose Alvarez spoke passionately about key La Luz initiatives made possible by the annual Noche event.

La Luz programs and initiatives

The center’s Latino Leadership program brought in both Alvarez and Mendelson in 2017.

“I got to meet a lot of great people with incredible potential who are eager to make an impact in our communities,” said Alvarez. The program has since been credited with placing about a dozen Latino leaders onto either a committee or a board position at La Luz.

The center’s microloan program has already made 35 microloans totaling more than $800,000 supporting 29 businesses ranging from auto shops, restaurants/food service, contracting and building to landscaping and domestic services creating over 150 jobs.

“There are so much people here who want to follow their dreams and start a business, but they don’t have the resources or the credit or the knowledge to create a business plan,” said Alvarez. “La Luz can help them get to their end goal.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how capital can create change, as well as coaching and mentorship,” added Mendelson.

Mendelson is a passionate supporter of the center’s English language (ESL) classes. “With better fluency, you can go from back a house up the road at a restaurant in front of house where you make a little bit more money,” he said. “You can communicate with the next generation.”

Alvarez’s own life was changed by La Luz’s citizenship legal advice. During the early years of La Luz, his father began traveling back and forth from Mexico to Sonoma to work the harvest and La Luz volunteers helped him to submit paperwork so that the family could live legally in the U.S.

Alvarez also sees the power of financial literacy.

“One of the things I see on a regular basis is the need for financial literacy within our community so work La Luz does in that area is very near and dear to my heart,” he said. “It fills me with joy when I see people going from having no credit or bad credit to being able to afford a home.”

Even a short-term annual program like the center’s tax prep clinic can yield what results, says Mendelson. In 2021, the center helped 89 people file returns and get refunds, with an average adjusted gross income of $28,000, according to Mendelson.

“What we want to start creating for our clients is the opening up of a pathway to the middle-class,” said Mendelson.

To that end, Alvarez also cited the value of the construction trade classes offered at La Luz.

“All of tour programs are important because in combination they can make (upward mobility) possible,” said Mendelson.

Looking back and forward

“We’re trying to figure out what does our community really need,” said Mendelson. “What do the demographics really look like here and how can we better serve our clients every single year?”

Lobato expressed excitement for the center’s “holistic” approach to meeting the range of needs of the Latinx community.

The right approach isn’t about one specific service, he said, “but support in various areas. That holistic approach — that’s how I like to solve issues, looking at all angles and finding solutions.”

Lobato will spend his first few months working with Mendelson and Alvarez to evaluate La Luz’s programs and assess how well each matches the needs of the community.

“We’re not the same organization that we were when La Luz was founded,” Mendelson said. All three men expressed optimism about the future and a sense of pride in being an integral part of the center’s future.

“La Luz celebrated 35 years last years and we want to be part of the next 35 years,” said Mendelson. “That would be an honor,” added Alvarez.

With additional reporting by Jason Walsh. Contact Lorna at

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?



When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances



Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit



Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.



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