Share What You Know

Jim Wasserman, 1:38 pm ET

MOST EVERYONE AGREES financial literacy should be taught to some degree in schools. Even the basics, like how to set up a bank or credit card account, or how to make a budget and avoid debt, should be explained to those soon to enter the workforce.

Another group of newcomers to the U.S. financial system who could use guidance are immigrants, particularly refugees. Jiab and I have been volunteering for a number of years to help refugees get acclimated to American life. We’ve learned how much “common knowledge” is actually not so common in many parts of the world. We once had to explain to a family from Myanmar that, if they put uncovered raw chicken in the freezer, it would end up with freezer burn.

The same is true for financial basics. Many refugees have never opened a bank account, let alone had a credit card or read a financial statement. Imagine how helpful it would be to them if someone like you, who’s familiar with the system, helped guide them through the basics.

To do so, you don’t need to be a financial expert, just someone who’s experienced in avoiding potholes on the road to success. There are many organizations that provide immigrant and refugee services, including introductory financial guidance. In Dallas, we have Refugee Services of Texas, which is currently processing many Afghan refugees, and Jewish Family Service, which isn’t limited to any one faith. There are also organizations and groups that serve low income and undereducated people in general that could use support and donations. I’d encourage you to check out homeless shelters, women’s shelters, community centers and public libraries to see what financial education services they offer—and whether you can help.

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Don Southworth
Don Southworth
9 months ago

Great article and great service Jim. Thanks for ideas and resources. I think it’s easy to list all the reasons we don’t have enough credentials or skills to help pass on expertise but the truth is if we share what we know it is often enough to help someone else.

Bob Wilmes
Bob Wilmes
9 months ago

I think this is a wonderful idea but difficult to implement without a formal structure. Without financial credentials like a CFP, it would be hard to gain the trust to publish ideas and provide investing insight.

I think there have been people like Dave Ramsey who teach financial concepts through churches and community groups.

The volunteer groups I know of for the poor, like St Vincent de Paul, tend to focus on basic needs like food and shelter.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
9 months ago
Reply to  Bob Wilmes

Thanks for the comment, Bob. Some organizations do have either classes or one-on-one counseling (JFS in Dallas does). Others do have informal question/answer sessions for people to explain the basics (homeless shelters, women’s shelters, libraries). While being a CFP would help, it’s really not a matter of giving complex advice or gaining trust. Most people in such a situation need VERY BASIC information we take for granted: How do they set up a bank account? Who is “Mr. FICA” and when does he give that part of my paycheck back? How do I set up a household budget? How does a credit card work (and its interest)?

We assisted a refugee woman by taking her to Walmart a few times to explain and have her practice figuring out sales tax (in many countries, the posted price is what you pay as it includes VAT).

Many of them are far away from investing; we’re just trying to get them to understand the American money system and maybe get to saving.

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