April is National Financial Literacy Month

Elevate your financial know-how

Carleda Johnson

Managing money can be intimidating especially if it is a new responsibility or you feel you don’t have the right skills or language to talk about it. Financial literacy is all about empowering individuals with the skills and understanding needed to confidently manage their personal finances. As part of National Financial Literacy Month, we interviewed Carleda Johnson, Independent Living Skills Coordinator and Financial Literacy Coach at Access Living. Carleda shares her knowledge and expertise below to help you build your financial literacy.

IL ABLE: What is Financial Literacy?

CJ: Financial literacy is all about understanding what it means to manage and take care of your money. This can include saving, investing, budgeting, and borrowing money. Every day, we make financial decisions, whether as small as if we want to order a cup of coffee or it can be something as significant as purchasing a home. Managing your money is a skill that benefits you and your family throughout your life. Being financially literate makes this task less daunting.

IL ABLE: Why is it important for people with disabilities and those who help them to build their financial literacy?

CJ: It is just as important for people with disabilities and their supporters to build the same financial knowledge, tools, and skills as those without disabilities. This way, they can effectively take care of their money, create and follow a budget, and use credit wisely. People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and financially insecure. Financial insecurity and a lack of financial literacy can make people with disabilities more likely to be targets of what’s called “predatory lending”. Predatory lending is when someone who has money to lend takes advantage of someone who needs to borrow money by imposing unfair or abusive lending terms. Additionally, individuals who receive public benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI)* need to understand the impact of earning income or building financial assets will have on their benefits.

*Editor’s Note: Eligible people with disabilities can consider opening an IL ABLE account to build financial assets and protect benefits like SSI.

IL ABLE: How do people with disabilities get started learning about financial literacy?

CJ: First, start by examining your current financial behaviors. Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What areas of taking care of my money do I need to improve on? Is it saving more, spending less, not having enough income, or learning to follow a spending plan? We all have areas of that we struggle with when it comes to managing our money. Recognizing the challenges are half the battle.
  2. Am I working toward a financial goal? Examples of financial goals could be building emergency savings, saving to have more money left over at the end of the month, or working* to earn more income and build assets.
  3. Do I have a network of individuals to assist me in reaching my goals? Having a trusted individual or network of people can help you stay focused keep you

*Editor’s Note: Eligible people with disabilities who work may save more with ABLE to Work.

IL ABLE: What are some financial resources that people with disabilities can use to help build their financial security?

CJ: One resource with helpful tools and resources for people with disabilities is the National Disability Institute (NDI). NDI provides tools for people with disabilities that are geared toward benefits planning, financial assessments, and a host of articles and webinars to help guide you on your journey to financial empowerment.

Another tool to explore is the Illinois Achieving a Better Life Experience or IL ABLE account. For eligible people an IL ABLE account can make it possible to save and invest money without risking benefits. With an IL ABLE account, you can save money as well as maintain eligibility for the benefits.

As a Financial Literacy Coach, I find that many people with disabilities are so afraid of losing their benefits that they stray away from working. To get a better understanding of how your benefits might change if you work, use the Illinois Disability Benefits Estimator to learn more about retaining or supplementing your benefits after an increase in income.

Additional resources include:
Disability Works gives good insight into developing a financial plan as a person with a disability;
• The Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, offers programs that can assist with the cost of home modifications, which can be extremely expensive to pay for out of pocket;
• And, check your local credit union or bank for any workshops or classes they may offer.

As people with disabilities, we are sometimes taught that our questions don’t matter causing us to believe that we don’t have a voice. We do, and it’s important not to not be afraid or ashamed to ask questions, and not just ask the question but keep asking until you have a clear understanding. You wouldn’t just let a doctor operate and not know what he or she is operating on, the same is true for your finances. Sometimes, your best resource is yourself and the questions you ask!

Carleda Johnson is an Independent Living Skills Coordinator and Financial Literacy Coach at Access Living, a Center for Independent Living serving the City of Chicago.

Learn how an IL ABLE account can be part of your financial plan at illinoisable.com.