Maryland credit union’s mission for financial literacy

A recent Standard & Poor’s study determined just 57% of U.S. adults are considered financially literate, as measured by their knowledge of basic banking and personal finance topics.

Some Americans are more vulnerable to financial illiteracy than others, something Audra Pettus remembers experiencing firsthand when she began her banking career in an economically vulnerable neighborhood where she would regularly interact with customers.

“They would have difficulty with things that I thought were the most basic of banking concepts,” Pettus said. “They didn’t understand the difference between a debit and a credit card. They didn’t understand what features were available on online banking.”

She added, “This was about 10 years ago — so this was back when check scams were extremely prevalent. And they were falling victim to those because their ignorance and their desperation were being preyed upon.”

That experience is what led Pettus to accept a role at Germantown, Maryland-based SkyPoint Federal Credit Union, to build a department dedicated to making free financial literacy tools and classes available. She now serves as director of community relations at Skypoint.

Financial education should start young, Pettus believes, and that can start with what parents teach their children.

There are three basics, she said.

“How to save. How to budget effectively. And how to borrow responsibly. Those are the three most important things when it comes to managing your finances responsibly,” Pettus said.

Her team has created programs on financial wellness. Topics include a credit-building seminar, pathways to homeownership, life insurance and retirement savings, entrepreneurship, investing, and paying for college.

SkyPoint also has a partnership with financial education content platform Banzai for interactive virtual financial literacy courses and games, with which it offers free to area schools. It also partners with Greenpath Financial Wellness, a debt counseling nonprofit, and offers its own second chance credit card program.

SkyPoint caters to the unbanked and underbanked, often minorities and immigrant families. It has three branches in Maryland — in Germantown, Rockville, and Silver Spring — and about 13,800 members.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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