Budgeting Tool Gives CUs a Jump-Start in Right Direction
Since then I've had the opportunity to try out a credit union product that does just that. Debt in Focus (www.debtinfocus.com) is a free debt management Web site that was developed by Filene's i3 group.
My first reaction to the site was that it was clean and took only a few minutes to complete the survey.
I went through three simple screens to get my results. I put in my income, my debt, answered a few quick questions and was done.
On the results page, I was shown my income, my total debt, my debt-to-income ratio, my revolving debt and a pie chart showing my target budget for my income. In the debt portion of the process, I would have liked to have been able to put in all my monthly expenses to get a complete overview of my obligations. The section only allowed for loans and rent.
The tool I found most useful in completing the process was a printable sheet provided to create my own budget. The sheet included suggested amounts calculated from the information provided and outlined different areas where I could fill in expense amounts for myself.
For targeting people my age, providing a tool that outlines a budget for us is really what credit unions need to be focusing on. We're starting out with our own real money for the first time in our lives; we have our own debt to pay down and our own bills to cover; and we want to be told how to cover it all.
One shortfall of the budgeting sheet, I felt, was that I couldn't make adjustments to the suggested amounts. Hoboken, N.J., across the river from New York City, is a high-rent area, and the rent suggested by the Web site was much lower than my actual amount. I wanted to be able to adjust the suggested amount to my actual amount and see how that would impact the suggested amounts for other areas in my budget.
The site also has a section at the end to link consumers to a credit union near them. For credit unions that use this tool, I think it should go a step further and connect the member with the credit union.
After I finished everything, the information was extremely useful, but I also had the feeling of, "OK, now what?" There should be section where members can then make an appointment to meet with someone at the credit union to go over the information and find out what services are available to help them meet their budgets.
Overall, the tool is simple and shows that credit unions are getting the ball rolling in the right direction. It can be used among people my age, people older than me with mortgages and more debt and even people younger than me to project their expected income and debt so they can start planning their financial future.
Since the site is new, one of the Filene innovators, Chad Graves, vice president information technology at Ent Federal Credit Union, said that the group is still looking for areas of improvement and things to tweak.
I've written before about how credit unions need to do more collaborating, and this is an area that I think credit unions will really start to see results by working together. This tool is a start for credit unions to get together and mold a product that all credit unions can offer so the movement as a whole can say, "We not only provide the education to make good financial choices, but we also provide the tools and technology to make it a reality."