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Mounting financial stress can feel inescapable to many low-income families. As bills pile up and late payments accrue interest, necessities like food and housing no longer become guaranteed.

One Los Angeles resident knew that feeling all too well.

In 2017, Irma Juarez was $5,500 in debt with no job, savings or stable housing to support herself, her husband and two infant children.

Unable to find affordable childcare, Juarez didn’t have time to search for full-time employment. As the grip of long overdue payments tightened around her, Juarez felt that she was being pulled down like quicksand.

“I was living penny to penny,” Juarez said.

Her sinking stalled when LIFT, a nonprofit that helps families break out of the poverty cycle, came to her rescue.

Finally thrown a lifeline, Juarez began to climb to safety.

With a Little Help From My Friends

Capital One Money Coach Christina Garcia works closely with LIFT in Los Angeles as a Financial Access Educator to provide a variety of financial educational workshops, classes and one-on-one support to low and moderate income adults including monolingual spanish speakers.

LIFT is designed to put someone you can trust in your corner and will rally you to reach your goals,” Garcia said. “Through this program, parents get a chance to network with other parents and can relate on various topics that often make them feel alone.”

Through Capital One’s online program Ready, Set, Bank, LIFT associates have the chance to learn about financial topics such as credit building and savings, homeownership, small business and financial digital literacy.

This free online program offers a series of short videos that show users how to download their bank’s app, enroll in online banking, check their balance, transfer funds and pay bills.

The same program is also available in Spanish asas Listos, Clic, Avance and provides tools and step-by-step instructions to adults like Juarez to manage online banking. The course focuses on important aspects such as how to use online banking to fit their lifestyle, pay bills, transfer funds, set security alerts and spot scams and fraud.

“The beauty of this course is that it’s relatable to the audience regardless of their level of online banking capability,” Garcia said. “This course empowers them to feel they have control over their finances.”

Participants have the opportunity to share stories of how they benefit from online banking, as well as what they learned through past experience such as being victims of fraud or scams.

Adjusting to the New Normal

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Capital One has adjusted its support of community partners like LIFT to best serve their needs.

For example, the pandemic forced Capital One to shift its Ready, Set, Bank workshops with LIFT to virtual instruction.

“We started to use breakout rooms on Zoom to build a sense of community,” Garcia said. “Participants in small groups of 2-3 people are able to share their goals with each other.

We made sure to add pauses for participant interactions and incorporated the chat option for questions or responses.”

For Juarez, access to this virtual course throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been paramount.

“These classes are key for everyone because most people don’t know how to overcome or get through this pandemic,” Juarez said. “The pandemic has made me more stressed and concerned.”

She successfully completed Capital One’s Ready, Set, Bank course and with Garcia’s help, Juarez changed the outlook of her financial health.

Since Juarez first joined LIFT, she has paid down almost $4,000 in debt and successfully increased her credit score by 99 points.

“When I met [the folks at] Capital One, I didn’t know that they had the resources, information and guidance for how to take care of your own banking online,” Juarez said. “Ever since I got into the class, I have not seen a late fee or an overdraft fee in my account.”

Juarez and Garcia worked together on a step-by-step plan to provide Juarez with the support she and her family needed to stay above the poverty line.

Garcia first referred her to food bank resources and helped her create a budget. They then navigated how to open a bank account and discussed how Juarez could kick her old habits and overcome her long history of late payments.

“I started at LIFT because I had always wanted to get more information about finances like how to build up my credit and how to buy a house,” Juarez said. “LIFT was able to give me all this information through [its partnership with] Capital One. Those classes were really helpful in every way.”

Juarez also enrolled in LIFT’s Lending Circles and Capital One’s community partner’s SaverLife program — a financial product that helped improve her credit score and encourage saving. Every three months, Juarez received $150 in assistance from the LIFT Family Goal Fund to build her savings and pay down her debt.

For Garcia, opportunities to improve the health and well-being of people in her community like Juarez is the reason she became a Capital One Financial Access Educator in the first place.

“At Capital One, the health, safety and well-being of our customers, associates and communities are our top priority,” Garcia said. “I love offering workshops at their site and knowing they will definitely test my skills with their insightful questions and I will always walk out learning something new myself too.”