EmPOWERment to the People

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  • During Black History Month, we tend to get more reflective about how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go to reach the kind of equity the civil rights soldiers fought for.

    The answer depends on who you ask and what kind of day we’re having. Point to the election of President Barack Obama and the role African-Americans played in getting him elected, things look pretty good. Point to the hatred and plain old disrespect that’s been thrown his way since he’s been in office, the picture looks bleaker.

    The big divides in technology, health issues, education and wealth are still wide, and even though we’ve made inroads, it still feels like sometimes we’re fighting the exact same battles as we were fighting 50 years ago. But we press forward. If we don’t, we give up – and that isn’t an option.

    When we measure what we do to bring about change as individuals or as a collective body – through our churches, fraternities and sororities, jobs, etc. – some of us can feel pretty good. The TJMS, BlackAmericaWeb.com and the Tom Joyner Foundation, under the umbrella of Reach Media, has addressed many of the issues that plague our communities. The goal has not only been to help solve the problems, but to empower our listeners so that they will have the tools to make a positive difference in whatever ways they can. “Take a Loved One to the Doctor,” the BlackAmericaWeb.com Relief Fund and our collaboration with the NAACP’s Voter Hotline were all vehicles for helping our listeners become pro-active and accountable.

    At the root of many of the problems typically associated with African-Americans is a kind of financial bondage that keeps us from prospering, even when we’re employed. Bad credit, living from check to check and paying exorbitant interest fees on loans all keep us from getting ahead.

    The launch of the Reach Card a couple of weeks ago is one avenue that hopefully can help some “unbanked” consumers gain some level of financial freedom.

    Now, for some critics – namely a serial texter who sends multiple messages daily – pre-paid cards are a way for companies to take advantage of people, bombarding them with fees in order to get access to their money. No doubt that cards like that are out there, but that doesn’t have to be the case. As pointed out by financial advisor Mellody Hobson, all pre-paid cards aren’t created equal. Some are more consumer-friendly than others, she says.

    The key is to weigh your options as more and more of these kinds products begin to enter the market – the latest one from the U.S. government.

    According to a recent article in The Washington Post, this week, the United States Treasury will send out letters to 600,000 people encouraging them to sign up to get their tax returns on a new pre –paid card (They should have called it the “Uncle Sam’s Card.”).

    All this tells me is that the more than 20 percent of black households that don’t use banks are being courted by lots of entities, and if you’re in that number, for whatever reason, there are some viable choices you can make.

    Before you make a move, though, get as much information as you can so that you can make an informed decision you’ll feel good about. Making a purchase only to regret it later, feeling forced into spending money you don’t have or being fooled into getting something that left you worse off than you were before you bought it are all horrible affects most of us have dealt with at some point in our lives.

    When it comes to prepaid cards, what’s most important to you? If you want to be able to add money to the card for free, check your balance for free, call customer service reps for free, this is where the Reach Card is different than most other cards. Any time you want to have a direct deposit – whether it’s a paycheck, or even a government check, like a tax return – it can be added to your prepaid card. And that’s free too! You just need to request it.

    The information is available. Read up, make a check list, comparison shop, and do what’s best for you as you get a step closer to financial empowerment.

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