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Gaining financial power

April is Financial Literacy Month and a time to be aware of the many educational resources available to help area residents at all stages of life

April 16, 2012
By Karin Elton , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - There is a group in Marshall whose only function is to make area residents' financial life a little better - the Financial Empowerment Collaborative.

"(FEC) is a public/private partnership of community-based businesses, agencies and groups located in the Marshall area that came together in August 2005 to connect financial management resources," said Barb Berkenpas, who is the FEC coordinator. This unique collaboration seeks to "strengthen the financial well-being of communities by providing information, education and support for people making decisions on a variety of financial management issues."

"Services are targeted to youth, to baby boomers, to lower economic groups, to college students, to immigrants and refugees. I guess you could say it attempts to provide services wherever they exist from cradle to grave," said Pat Thomas, the coordinator for Adult Basic Education Southwest Minnesota, which is one of the partners in the collaborative.

"No matter what age - there is always something to learn. We need to improve our financial fitness," Berkenpas said.

Berkenpas serves as the liaison between people who need information about finances and people who can give that expert information.

"She can readily access to business people who can share their knowledge - people from Bremer or Wells Fargo," said Thomas.

"We usually learn by mistake," said Berkenpas.

To help people avoid those mistakes, Berkenpas speaks to various groups on the topic that is important to them. For example, she said, high schoolers need to know about financial aid information for college. Employees could benefit from information about how to maximize their 401K plan or make their tax refunds go further.

"Employees who are financially secure are more productive," she said.

There are also classes available, such as Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership's Home Stretch classes for new home buyers, and "Living Within Your Means," which is offered in collaboration with Marshall Community Services.

In addition to presentations and classes, the FEC has a website,

One of the tools on that website, Thomas said, is a budget tool "that lays it out in a visual way so you can see where your money is going. It adds red flags to areas that need addressing. For example if you own a car, but don't have car insurance, that's one flag."

The Collaborative is made possible with financial support from the Otto Bremer Foundation, United Way of Southwest Minnesota and Ameriprise.



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