How Credit Unions Can Help Individuals Increase Financial Literacy at Every Stage of Life


At every age, people face important financial decisions that can have a snowball effect on their financial futures. Saving a first paycheck, managing student loans, establishing credit, investing in a first home, building an emergency savings fund and preparing for retirement – these are just a few of the financial goals that individuals work toward during their lifetime. As member-owned institutions, credit unions have a responsibility to invest back into the communities we serve by promoting financial literacy as a lifelong process that must be tailored to people’s changing needs over time.

As an accredited financial educator at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU), my job is to go out into communities to help support PFCU’s mission of providing the tools and resources individuals and families need at every age and every stage of life. Look around and you’ll find us in schools and universities, nonprofit organizations, homeless shelters, nursing homes and more because we know that financial well-being is an ongoing process that changes over the course of people’s live

Regardless of age or income level, individuals need support to help achieve their financial goals, and credit unions have an opportunity to engage with members of their communities to better understand their particular financial needs – from students to young professionals to aging adults. Here are some lessons credit unions should consider sharing with their communities:

It’s never too early to learn smart money saving habits. Even as they’re just starting to think about the future, students can greatly benefit from understanding the value of money at a young age – instilling this lesson early on will better prepare them for financial success. Last month, for example, we visited Louis H. Farrell Elementary School for College and Career Day to teach students in grades five through eight about the importance of saving money to plan for their future educations and careers. Learning from professionals as role models helps inspire students to pursue an education and manage the money decisions that will come with it.

Don’t be afraid to have tough money conversations. As kids grow into young adults, the topic of money starts to become taboo. The successes and challenges associated with having (or not having) money often create a burden for individuals that they’re not comfortable sharing with others. Money becomes especially top of mind as people graduate high school and enter college or the workforce, making it an ideal time to reinforce the importance of confronting their financial realities and goals. For example, perhaps one person is buried in student loans, struggling to keep up with classes while he or she works a part-time job or is afraid to tell friends they can’t attend “happy hour” because it’s not in his or her budget. Conversely, another student may dream of becoming a millionaire, but doesn’t want to seem money hungry.

To encourage open dialogue about financial topics among students, PFCU launched a social media financial awareness campaign on Temple University’s campus during Financial Literacy Month. We encouraged students to take to social media by snapping a photo with their money confessions in an effort to help #StopMoneyShaming. By asking students to participate in a grass-roots effort like this, we wanted to understand their real-life money confessions – their goals, fears, failures and successes – so we could better help them achieve their financial goals. Credit unions need to be involved in removing the social tension and discomfort around the topic of money, but people can also learn from one another and get the discussion started.

Financial preparedness is key to planning for the future – at every age and every stage of life. Credit unions work with people of all ages to promote financial literacy, but it’s especially important to reach out to young professionals to provide a better understanding of personal finance basics. Throughout the year, PFCU hosts financial preparedness workshops with JEVS Human Services Project WOW to empower students and young professionals to prepare for their financial independence. Individuals who attend the seminar are working toward receiving a GED certificate or developing trade-specific skills. They learn best practices for establishing good credit, managing bank accounts, creating an emergency savings fund and setting specific goals for the future.

As young professionals begin to enter the workforce, it’s important that they learn the fundamentals of personal finance. In addition to working with Project WOW, we also partner with Pennsylvania CareerLink to provide young adults with in-depth banking, budgeting and savings skills. This particular seminar helps local Philadelphia residents who are seeking employment sharpen their set of skills. What’s more, PFCU works with Depaul House to help homeless men gain a basic understanding of personal finance concepts to help them with their employment skills.

It’s also important to reach out to community groups that may have unique financial challenges, including women in the workforce who might be working toward specific career goals. PFCU had the pleasure of attending the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Women in Business Conference earlier this year to discuss the importance of establishing financial goals and creating a budget with past, present and future female entrepreneurs of Philadelphia. From chief executive officers to entry-level employees, business savvy women can all work on their relationship with money and cultivate a healthier understanding of their personal finances and financial well-being to improve all aspects of their lives.

Older adults aren’t immune to financial risk. As senior citizens enter retirement, they are oftentimes the targets of financial scams. Recently, PFCU educated individuals age 55+ about financial scams, fraud and online security during a daylong series, Balancing Dollars and $en$e, at Center in the Park, a nonprofit organization in Northwest Philadelphia. It is PFCU’s responsibility to better equip seniors with the necessary skills to protect themselves against financial scams before they become victims – and other credit unions can help protect their older members by implementing similar programs in their communities.

Improving financial literacy is important at every stage of life. Members are the real owners of our institutions, so it’s important for credit unions to take a vested interest in the financial needs of those in the communities we serve. Helping individuals at any age, regardless of income level, develop better relationships with money will set them up to map out their paths for financial success and reinforce your credit union’s value to the community.


Erin Ellis is an Accredited Financial Educator at Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU) where she develops PFCU’s financial education curriculum, provides one-on-one counseling with members and presents financial seminars to PFCU members and a wide network of social services organizations throughout the Philadelphia region. Erin is passionate about helping individuals and families better manage their money and achieve financial goals.

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