KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Backers of a program encouraging more people to save plan a statewide rollout early this year. The program is already supported by a coalition including the Tennessee Credit Union League, state government and the University of Tennessee Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service. Participating financial institutions will offer Tennessee Saves accounts that accept deposits as low as $25 and charge no fees for at least the first year and a half. In a message to the state’s credit unions, TCUL president Tom Gaines underscored the implications for credit unions. “All credit unions can participate because share accounts qualify as Tennessee Saves accounts,” he noted. “Many banks do not offer these accounts; however, almost all credit unions offer a basic share account that meets the criteria.. I believe this is a unique opportunity for credit unions to demonstrate their value and commitment to service.” Dena Wise, assistant professor/family economics specialist at the Cooperative Extension Service, is one of the program’s founders. She explains the idea grew out of the nationwide America Saves effort. “An initiative called Financial Security in Later Life kicked off at a conference in Myrtle Beach (S.C.) in 2002,” Wise says. “One of the efforts they highlighted at the conference was America Saves. We had a team of five people at that kickoff and decided the America Saves program was the way we wanted to go in Tennessee to implement the Financial Security in Later Life initiative.” The team was concerned people wouldn’t understand that assuring financial security for retirement wasn’t something that could wait. Wise cites some national statistics underscoring the need for an educational and motivational effort. “Half the people who are working now have never figured how much they will need to get by when they retire and how much savings they will need to supplement their retirement income – if they have a pension,” she notes. The biggest challenge, Wise continues, is the fact people are very private about their money. Sometimes it’s painful to talk about financial issues. Another major problem is heavy use of credit at high rates. Extension Service representatives, teachers, credit unions, banks, government and community agencies and others were invited to a Tennessee Saves planning conference. Participants formed 17 regional groups. About 10 decided to carry out full-scale campaigns with motivational speakers going out to work sites, civic clubs and other groups encouraging people to save. Volunteers then follow up to see if savers need advice on issues such as savings goals or how much to save. “In 2004 we’re planning a statewide introduction,” Wise says. “So far there have been kickoffs in local areas. Every campaign is a little different, depending on the needs and resources in the area and the people who have the common interest to go ahead with the effort. Sometimes partnerships are led by the Extension Service, sometimes by a bank or credit union. “Those partnerships are important. This program, and the enthusiasm for the program, has been exciting for us.” -

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