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City of Syracuse offering free financial counseling for all residents

Jason Smith
WRVO News (file photo)

Syracuse is joining more than two dozen cities across the country in a program that provides free professional financial counseling to residents. 

Valerie Hill of Syracuse was in a bad way, financially. A failed marriage that left her credit score in shambles, a mountain of medical bills and unexpected funeral expenses after her sister's death was overwhelming. She realized she needed help, and found it at the fledgling Financial Empowerment Center in Syracuse. She said professional counselors offered her a plan to get out of debt.

"Just being able to see that particular picture, drawn out and put on paper, it allowed me to be able to take a bite out of it day by day, to get to where I needed to be financially," said Hill.

Any Syracuse resident can make a free, confidential appointment at the Financial Empowerment Center. There are no income restrictions. The program is currently privately funded.

Stephanie Pasquale, commissioner of Neighborhood and Business Development, said the city is looking for a way to sustain it beyond a one-year pilot, and said the city is in an ideal position to provide this service.

"There are a lot of families that come to us and say 'this month should I pay water or should I pay taxes?' We’re a high touch-point entity and I like to think we’re a trusted resource," said Pasquale.

The Syracuse center is based on a model created by the Cities for Financial Empowerment. CEO Jonathan Mintz said it’s been very successful in other cities, helping people improve their financial situation. Counselors help on four fronts, with the biggest being tackling debt.

"They’re not just giving you advice, they’re picking up the phone and helping renegotiate payment plans," Mintz said. "They’re getting debt reduced that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. They’re opening the mail that you don’t want to open anymore."

He said too often, people try to tackle financial issues on their own.

"If you’re struggling with your finances, you don’t need a financial literacy website. You need to sit down with a professional financial counselor. Now in Syracuse you can."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.