Welcome to Financial Fundamentals! This site is a convenient source for credible and free financial literacy resources. It is designed to assist direct-service providers to help their clients meet short term financial responsibilities and maximize their long-term financial well being.

There are indications everywhere of the low level of financial awareness of consumers: a growing amount of personal debt, low personal savings rates, and a record number of bankruptcies and foreclosures. It’s important for everyone to be financially literate, but it’s especially important for low-income individuals and families, as they are more vulnerable to and affected by debt, bad credit, unscrupulous lending practices and second-rate financial services. In order to rise from poverty, people of low-incomes must be made aware of financial opportunities and risks, and must develop the skills that will help them make informed financial decisions and exercise their consumer protection rights.

This site is a clearing-house of financial literacy information and resources on topics ranging from credit, budgeting, consumer protection, debt and more. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please contact Suzanna Witte.

This site is not meant to replace professional financial counseling. To locate a certified Consumer Credit Agency please contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 1-800-388-2227 or by entering your zip-code at http://www.debtadvice.org/takethefirststep/locator.cfm.

Brought to you by the Ohio Benefit Bank & the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.
Special thanks to 5/3rd Bank, Charter One Bank,the Columbus Foundation, the Ohio Department of Development Office of Community Services, the George Gund Foundation, the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives.

Building a good credit record is an important step to reaching financial independence. Your credit score is a measure of your financial trustworthiness. When you apply for a credit card, loan, or mortgage lenders want to know what they risk lending you money. Credit means lower interest rates & monthly payments; poor credit can prevent access to apartment rentals, jobs, and home or car loans.

Credit Reports

How’s your Credit? There are countless web sites that will give you a copy of your credit report IF you pay money and sign up for their services. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act the national credit reporting agencies MUST provide you with an absolutely free copy of your report, at your request, once every year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your credit report.

After you receive your credit report, look over it carefully! Are there any entries that shouldn't be there? You have the right to dispute any wrong or false information. This must be done with the Credit Reporting Agency that provided the credit report (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax). They must investigate your dispute and if the information is found to be erroneous, it must be removed from your report.

If you’d like to learn how to build a better credit report, advice is available from the Federal Trade Commission.

Beware of Credit Repair scams!  If you need help restoring your credit read advice from the Federal Trade Commission first: Credit Repair: Self Help May Be Best.

Other Resources

Consolidated Credit.org
Learn the basics of Credit with this free online course.

What is a FICO (or credit) score and how is it calculated?
My FICO: Understanding your credit score.

A glossary of Credit terms written in plain English!
Credit Glossary, from CardTrack.com

How can I establish credit?

Many college students, immigrants, and others outside the financial mainstream are faced with “No-Credit” issues everyday. For example, without a major credit card it’s impossible to buy an airline ticket, reserve a hotel room or rent a car.

There are many ways to establish credit. One option is with a secured credit card: a major credit card secured by a deposit into a bank. It is a very effective way to help establish a new credit history or reestablish credit if you’ve had problems in the past.  Be aware that a secured card requires an annual fee and usually has a higher interest rate than an “unsecured” card. Because of this, it would be wise to pay off the balance in full each month.

To open a secured credit card: Locate a depository institution that offers this program, then open an account. If you deposit $400, they will issue a Visa or MasterCard with a $400 credit limit. Make sure the issuer reports to a credit bureau. If you consistently make on-time payments your credit will improve and you may be allowed access to an “unsecured” credit card in 18 to 24 months.

Keep in mind that there are secured credit card scams out there! Read about these deceptive ads and scams Secured Credit Card Marketing Scams by the Federal Trade Commission.


Choosing and Using Credit Cards

These resources will help you compare credit card costs, understand your rights, and show you how to file a complaint if you have a problem with your credit card:      

Federal Reserve Board

Federal Trade Commission Definitions of credit card terms (APR, annual fees), how to choose a credit card and how to dispute a credit card charge.

Card Calculator from CardTrack.com. How long will to take you to pay off the balance on your credit card?


An important way to help people save money and build assets is to teach them to protect the possessions and money they already have. Certain federal and state laws are designed to shield the consumer from unfair and dishonest lending practices. Unfortunately, this does not prevent some lenders from deceiving and misleading borrowers into unfair loan terms, resulting in excessive debt, the loss of a car or home.

Wondering if it is a good idea? Check out the "Nasty Nine." Nine high-cost practices that strip money from hard working families.

PayDay Loans

PayDay Loans are short-term loans with high interest rates, secured by a personal check. Because of high rates, the short repayment period, and consequences of failing to make good on the check used to secure the loan, payday loans often trap consumers in a cycle of debt. “Ohio has one of the highest concentrations of payday lenders in the country. Recent annual financial reports from four of Ohio’s leading payday lenders confirms that over 300,000 Ohioans are trapped in a long-term payday lending cycle.” Read more County-by-County Payday Lending Impact Report by The Ohio Coalition for Responsible Lending or visit www.ohiodebttrap.org

How Payday loans trap consumers in a cycle of debt, an interview with a former Payday lender.

A word of caution from the Federal Trade Commission: Payday Loans = Very Costly Cash

Toledo's Action News 13: The Debt Trap?

Payday loan calculator: see the real cost of a Payday loan

Consumer Protection Resources

Know the Seven Signs of Predatory Lending Descriptions of common abusive lending practices from The Center for Responsible Lending.

If you are an Ohio resident and you’d like to file a complaint against a Bank, Credit Union, Mortgage Broker or other depository institution visit the Ohio Department of Commerce web site, or call 1-866-278-0003.

Most other consumer complaints are handled by the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Please answer the Pre-Complaint Questions before filing a complaint, or call 1-800-282-0515.

Ohio Legal Services provides Legal Assistance to low-income Ohioans with non-criminal issues or problems. You can also call 1-800-LAW-OHIO to find a local legal-aid provider.

Debt Collectors are prohibited from certain practices including harassment and making false statements. Read Consumer Rights and Debt Collection from Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray to learn what practices are illegal, and what to do if you believe a collector has violated the law.


Trapped in Debt? Advice from the Federal Trade Commission

How to Choose a Credit Counselor Know the difference between Debt Management Plans (DMP) and authentic Credit Counseling.


Many low-to-moderate income individuals and families have limited knowledge about and access to traditional banking institutions, and as a result, face higher costs for financial services like check-cashing. Without a bank account it is often impossible to save money and build assets; it’s also more difficult  to establish credit or qualify for a loan.

The Basics of Financial Institutions.

Credit Unions are not-for-profit, owned and controlled by the people who use its services, usually a group such as employees in the same industry. Credit unions generally offer lower rates to their customers.
Banks are corporations that usually offer a wider range of services, but usually for a higher fee.
Check Cashers are corner stores that charge customers very high fees to cash their government, personal or payroll checks.

What are the benefits of banking with a bank or credit union?

Banks offer a safe place to store money, are federally insured and are an alternative safer to carrying cash. Banking is also very convenient, ATM and debit cards can be used at any bank machine and you can make purchases with your debit card anywhere credit cards are accepted. Furthermore, using a checking account can save you thousands of dollars a year. It’s much cheaper than buying money orders or going to check cashing places. Finally, opening a checking or savings account is the first step in establishing a relationship with a bank. It could help you buy a car, or get a student or home loan in the future.

We’ve all heard the term FDIC Insured, but what does it mean?
The FDIC is an agency of the U.S. government that insures your deposits at banks and other  financial institutions up to $100,000.  If your account is insured by the FDIC and your bank goes out of business you will not lose your money.

Confirm your Bank or Credit Union is FDIC insured
FDIC Bank Find or National Credit Union Association

Other Resources
Find a Better Bank, select your location, specify the features you want, and find the bank that best suits your needs.

Ohio Treasurer’s Office
List of Ohio Depository Banks

Electronic Transfer Accounts, for recipients of Federal Payments

If you receive Social Security, SSI, or Veterans Benefits, there is a faster, safer and more convenient way to receive your Federal Payment. An Electronic Transfer Account (ETA) costs little to no money, and you may be eligible even if you do not have or do not qualify for a checking or savings account. Learn more: http://www.eta-fi nd.gov/.


Economic Stimulus Payments

Individuals who might not otherwise be required to file a 2007 tax return, and received at least $3000 in qualifying income in 2007, must file a return by October 15, 2008 to receive the stimulus payment.  Stimulus-Only Filers can file for free through the IRS Free File program. Or, find an Economic Stimulus Benefit Bank Site by calling 1.800.648.1176

If you filed a 2007 tax return, you do not need to take any extra steps to receive the stimulus payment. 

Payments are issued according the last two digits of your social security number. A schedule is available on the IRS web site Stimulus Payment Schedule.

For more information visit the IRS’s web site Economic Stimulus Payments Information Center

Free Tax Preparation

Find a Benefit Bank Tax Site or call 1.800.648.1176

Do your own taxes with the Benefit Bank Self-Serve edition.

To Find a VITA site near you call 1.800.829.1040.

If you are 60 years or older free tax assistance is available through Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, sponsored by AARP.

Refund Anticipation Loans

For people in a hurry to get their tax refunds instant refund loans can sound like a great idea. A paid tax preparer files your tax return and sends it electronically, and you borrow the anticipated amount of your refund immediately. Fees for this service, however, can equate to an annual percentage rate of 200%. Some can even go as high as 2,000%. Consumers should be aware that rapid-refund loans are often unnecessary. Free help is available through the Benefit Bank and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. You can also use the IRS’ free electronic filing program FreeFile.

National Consumer Law Center: “RALs Can Be Hazardous to Your Financial Health”

Other Resources

Is the right amount of money being held from your paycheck? IRS Withholding Calculator

The Earned Income Tax Credit: Do you qualify?

Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) represent low-income taxpayers before the IRS for free or nominal charge. Contact a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic near you or call 1-877-777-4778 to see if you are eligible.
You may also file Form 911, Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance, with the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or request that an IRS employee complete Form 911 on your behalf.Fax or mail this form to your Local Taxpayer Advocate.

In 1972 Americans set aside 10% of their income for savings: in 2004 the rate was a meager 1.3%. There are many reasons for the drop in personal savings. A major factor is that we are constantly faced with strong messages to spend money and buy things, but rarely are we encouraged or given the tools to save money. The importance of saving, especially for those with limited resources, cannot be overstated. Without a budget and savings plan it is nearly impossible to reach financial security. Saving provides us with the ability to save for life goals like college or a new car, it also helps us avoid costly credit card charges and high interest loans when faced with unexpected life events.

Budgeting Made Easy
A printable guide to Budgeting, includes worksheets that will help you total your monthly expenses, income and debt.

Feed The Pig!
Calculators, articles, calendars and other budgeting and debt-management tools.

Saving tips by ColumbusSaves.org
A hundred ways to save on everything from food, housing, and entertainment. The small things really do add up! 

You don’t need to  be wealthy to save money. By cutting back on the little things and putting away a few dollars per pay check, you can reach your financial goals. Follow these steps and start saving today!

Track  your income and expenses. For one month write down everything you buy, including the small stuff like snacks, tobacco, and transportation. You can use the worksheets on this site Budgeting Made Easy to total your monthly expenses, income and debt.

Trim your current expenses. Read Saving tips by ColumbusSaves.org, for a hundred ways to save on everything from food, and housing to entertainment. The small things really do add up! Reinforce your new habits by calculating how much you are saving. For example, by cutting out those expensive coffee drinks at about $4/day, you save over $800 a year!

Set a savings goal. A new car? Rainy-day fund? How much do you have to save per week to reach your goal?  Set a dollar amount and a date. Create a budget around this goal and stick to it!

Other Resources that will help you examine your spending habits andsave and budget your money:

Feed The Pig!, Calculators, articles, calendars and other budgeting and debt-management tools.

How to Buy Nothing  A guide from Wikihow.com