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Circles Program Is Leading SC Residents Out of Poverty | South Carolina News

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By ANGELIA L. DAVIS, Greenville News

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — At one time, LeAundrea Robinson could sum up the story of her life situation in three words: “broke, broken and homeless.”

Circles Greenville County helped change the narrative by giving her a support system that helped lift her out of her circumstances.

The mother of four, today, is a homeowner who works full time and has launched nonprofit organizations such as Unity Projects, Inc. and SIMS (She Is My Sista).

Circles Greenville, a chapter of Circles USA, which works to help people move out of poverty, “gave me something that other organizations didn’t,” Robinson said. “I was able to go from surviving to thriving.”

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The same may also be said about the 40 others in Greenville who’ve completed Circles 18-month program.

The process begins with a 12-week training class, during which people accepted to the program learn basic financial literacy and create a plan to achieve their goals.

When they graduate from the 12-week class, they become “Circles leaders.” The leaders are then matched with people from the community that Circles calls allies. Allies are volunteers that receive training to help the leaders fulfill their goals.

“Many of our leaders have started their own business and now employ people in our community,” said Judy Brown, a Circles volunteer and ally. “They are working on college degrees or have graduated college. It has been a wonderful experience to watch our Circles leaders thrive and bring their family out of poverty. Circles leaders improve our local economy and that benefits all of us.”

MEN MOVING FORWARD HELPS ADDICTS

Carson Love, who completed the program last month, plans to use what he’s gained from Circles to move forward with his business partner to open a house for men recovering from addiction. His partner, Supreme Newkirk was unable to participate in Circles because of his work schedule, Love said.

The idea for Men Moving Forward is one the men have had since 2013, Love said. The inspiration stems from their own journey to recovery, he said.

“We’re both recovering addicts and we came up with this platform to open a recovery house for men suffering from the disease of addiction and alcoholism,” Love said. “We want to help these gentlemen get their lives back in order, to first help them to stop using then to help them get back to the basics.”

Love said the project has come to a standstill. They’ve been unable to find a house to rent or buy for the men.

Love, the owner of a transportation service who also works in maintenance at Buncombe Street United Methodist Church (BSUMC), was familiar with Circles. The Circles meetings are held there at BSUMC.

But, Love said, he didn’t know what Circles was about until the late Stella McBee, a Circles coach, encouraged him to complete an application. He’s glad he did.

Through the program, he said he’s learned how to think differently about money. His old way, Love said, “was driving me in the hole.”

“I have not used a credit card in seven months and that’s phenomenal for me because every time I go to Walmart, I use the Walmart card,” Love said. “They helped me change my thinking to use that kind of source only in emergencies and budget from what I get paid biweekly.”

Love plans to pass the information on to his business partner as well as the gentlemen in the planned recovery house.

“If they see me trying to budget and be a good manager of money, they can probably take on that trait as well,” he said. “I really internalized it when I saw it working for me.”

CIRCLES GREENVILLE IS IN ITS 6TH YEAR

Circles Greenville, a partnership between BSUMC and Sunbelt Human Advancement Resources (SHARE), has been at work in the community since 2015.

Robinson and Tori Franklin, 25, were among the inaugural graduates of the program.

Franklin was a new mom and a Greenville Tech student when McBee, who died in August 2020, and Sandra Bullock, former Circles Greenville County coordinator, introduced her to Circles.

At the time, Franklin was still fresh in trying to figure out how to be a single mother and make ends meet.

The program, she said, helped her clarify what she wanted to do in life. It also inspired her status from single mother to “independent mother.”

“I was always someone seen as a statistic,” Franklin said. “I felt like in Circles, I was taken in to be a part of a family, to be with people that helped nurture and helped me to grow as a strong black woman.”

Circles also helped Franklin accomplish the goal of obtaining her two-year degree in marketing from Greenville Tech. Franklin, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree from Berea College in Kentucky, said sometimes when a person is seeking some kind of help, they’re made to feel that the giver is better than you.

Not so with Circles allies, she said.

“Even though the people may have had different skills or assets that we didn’t have, we were able to nurture them as well,” she said. “Not only did we learn from our allies, they learned from us.”

Elizabeth Hicks, a Circles volunteer and ally, said having the opportunity to work with a leader as an “intentional” friend and mentor enriched her life in many ways.

“It challenged me to open my eyes and see the encompassing nature of poverty for an individual, to their spirit, their outlook and their ability to develop,” said Hicks in an email. One of the most rewarding aspects was being able to walk beside her leader and help her overcome hurdles that were problematic, she said.

“It went beyond the things you think about — learning to budget and save, learning new skills to enhance employability or helping her access resources in the community,” she said. “A lot of the hurdles are psychological or emotional. They face issues that, for those of us not in their shoes, consider part of our normal life and learn to negotiate.”

Franklin said everyone in Circles was open and welcoming regardless of the situation. And, she didn’t feel judged.

“I feel like that’s what makes Circles different,” Franklin said.

FORMING A CIRCLE AROUND A PERSON IN POVERTY

Circles USA works, in part, by forming a Circle around the person in poverty.

That person is matched with allies who circle around them, along with a coach and resource team supports, according to Gena Atcher, national membership coordinator for Circles USA.

This lifts them up, offers them many levels of support, and helps them achieve S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals so they will “thrive, not just survive,” Atcher said in an email.

Circles’ goal for an individual or family is to help them reach 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline and get out of poverty.

Circles USA began in Ames, Iowa, as the Move the Mountain Leadership Center, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to find long-term solutions for reducing poverty, the program’s website said.

During the 1990s, Move the Mountain developed and researched a community-led support system, and by 2001, it found that the effort was working — families were moving out of poverty for good, the site said.

The term Circles represents the relational approach of getting people off of welfare and into jobs through peer support from middle-income volunteers, the site said.

Circles USA has more than 80 locations in 22 states and parts of Canada, the site said. Circles Greenville was the first South Carolina chapter.

Judy Brown recalls hearing the Rev. Jerry Hill, former BSUMC pastor, talk about the program one Sunday in fall 2014. The concept spoke to her heart, as if God was saying “this is where I want you to be my hands and feet.”

She’s been a volunteer ever since. This past year, she became Carson Love’s Circles ally.

It was a humbling experience to be a part of Love’s journey, she said. “He is so committed to getting a business started that will serve others,” she said.

Brown made the commitment to serve as an ally as “a way to give back for the blessings I’ve been given.”

“Poverty is the root cause of so many problems within our community. Circles has given me an opportunity to better understand the barriers that people in poverty are dealing with on a daily basis,” Brown said.

HELPING FAMILIES BECOME SELF-SUFFICIENT

A Circles ally helps a family become self-sufficient, Brown said.

The leader may need help with budgeting, navigating bureaucracy, housing, learning job skills or just having a friend that supports their journey out of poverty, Brown said. An ally can give the leader a different perspective and provide resources to help as they move forward, she said.

The connections with Circles are among the specialties that impressed Tina Branham. a single mother of five children, who completed the program in June.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen or been involved in before,” she said. “They choose your ally based on personality, based on interest in what you want to do, and it’s a pretty good match. My ally was amazing.”

Branham moved to Greenville with her children, ages three to 15, in 2019. She was homeless and had no transportation of her own.

When McBee connected her to Circles, Branham was “overwhelmed with everything going on in my life,” she said. “It was a mess.”

Through Circles, Branham said, you gain a different outlook on life and managing money from point A to point B to get out of poverty.

“They connect you with credit repair people who are very diligent. They actually sit you down and go over everything,” Branham said. “They look at your bank statements like ‘hey, you’re spending too much money on fast foods. That money could be going toward some of these bills.’”

The “real truths” released are hard to hear, Branham said, but necessary if you want to get out of poverty.

Her hope is to eventually buy a house so her children will have a place to play outdoors. Branham, a doula, is also working to become a certified midwife. She wants to expand her business “Touch of Grace,” to add midwifery services.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?

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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

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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

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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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