iSave helps Cherokees save money for home rehab
Cherokee Nation citizen Callie Chunestudy stands by her new hot water heater that she was able to purchase as a participant in the CN’s Commerce Services iSave program. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Commerce Services helps Cherokees whose homes are undergoing rehabilitation pay for the work with its Individual Development Account program known as iSave.
iSave teaches individuals to budget their incomes and how to save money. After saving money, the program matches those individuals’ savings.
“We were actually the very first Indian tribe to start a Individual Development Account program in 1998,” Commerce Services Executive Director Anna Knight said.
The program went through changes after Knight said she discovered Cherokees were mostly using funds for housing rehab.
“Now we focus specifically on housing rehab. And when we talk about rehab, we’re talking about improvements that are made to the home that increase the value of the home,” she said.
Improvements include adding storm windows, fencing the yard or enclosing a garage.
Another change is that participants are allowed to save money for up to six months before utilizing matched funds. Previously, participants were required to save for 24 months.
“We learned through our own clients that 24 months was sometimes just too long. If people don’t get gratification a little bit sooner in the process, then it makes them lose interest in the process,” Knight said.
Funded by the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act, Knight said iSave matches $3 for every $1 saved up to $1,000 and the match could be up to $3,000.
“Say in the first six months they save $500 and then they wanted to put in new air conditioning, they wanted to redo the floors in their house, something like that. We would match them $3 for every $1 that they saved. That would be $1,500,” Knight said.
The money saving program works with participating local banks helping people open accounts for as little as $30 to begin saving and have account fees waived.
“The philosophy behind that is that the bank is building a future customer, so later when this person needs to borrow money or needs to open another account, they’ll become a customer for that bank,” Knight said.
She said an important component is financial education. Through financial education, a participant is provided with a one-on-one financial coach, provided copies of his or her credit report, taught how to improve his or her credit, given lessons on how to pay off debt and taught how to look at his or her budget and find where he or she can save money.
“Once they go through the financial education then overwhelmingly they come back and tell how much they’ve learned from the classes, how much they’ve learned from the business coaches and didn’t really realize how much they did not know that was actually out there,” Knight said. “At every opportunity that we can we try to teach people to save.”
iSave has helped more than 550 participants so far. Participants are allowed to stay in the program up to 36 months.
CN citizen Callie Chunestudy is a participant who’s been in the program for nearly a year and half. Her home rehab includes purchasing a hot water heater and she’s in the process of having drainage work on her property to help keep her home from flooding.
Chunestudy said the program is “wonderful” and helps her afford renovations she would otherwise not be able to afford.
“If you can take the initiative to save a little bit of the money yourself, which they’re asking you do, which is kind of a self-help program, then they’ll also pitch in and increase that money exponentially so that you can get your project finished,” Chunestudy said.
Chunestudy said she’s learned to outline a plan and budget her funds for the types of projects she wants done.
“You’ve got to budget your projects and figure out what you want to work on and get finished. You can’t just sit on it forever and wait for something to happen to the house. You kind of have to have a plan for what you want to use it for,” she said.
A participant must meet the National Median Income guidelines, be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe and own a home.
For more information, call 918-453-5536 or email firstname.lastname@example.org