Cory and Dana Smith sit snugly on their couch with their two children, Marley, aged 6, and Gavin, aged 4. Neither of them can believe they’re sitting in a living room they own, that they themselves have freshly painted.
Cory is a cable technician and Dana is taking prerequisite classes at a community college to prepare for a dental hygiene program.The couple are first-time homebuyers and have been in their home for a year now. They saved toward buying it using an IDA matched savings account through Catholic Charities.
“With me not working and being in school, it really helped a lot,” Dana said. “We knew we wanted to buy a home soon, and I don’t think we would have been able to save so quickly without the IDA.”
Last spring, Dana opened a new IDA account, this time to save toward the costs of her education. She set a goal of saving $80 a month and planned to begin applying to dentistry programs in December.
An IDA (Individual Development Account) is a savings account intended to help low- and moderate-income people save toward a major asset. In the case of Catholic Charities’ program, these goals include buying a first home, starting a small business, or paying for higher education.
“By acquiring one of those assets —building equity in a home, cash flow and equity in a business, or higher paying jobs through education — they now have a real shot at accessing meaningful financial potential in their lives, as opposed to being trapped in the working-poor class, lacking access to those kinds of opportunities,” said Andy Zmuda, director of asset development programs at Catholic Charities.
“It leverages people’s determination to work hard, their desire to make sacrifices, and their willingness to save and put off immediate needs and gratification for future goals.”
The way the program works is every dollar deposited into the account is matched with $2 through federal and private grant funding within Catholic Charities. An individual can save up to $2,000 in the account with a $4,000 match and families can save up to $4,000 with a match of $8,000.
Along the way, they receive other financial services through Catholic Charities, such as financial coaching, financial education, and credit repair services.
Last week, Catholic Charities was informed by Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01) that they had been selected to receive another round of federal grant funding to expand the program in the amount of $100,000. Zmuda estimated that the grant would allow the program to serve an additional 45 savers this year.
In 2014, 54 individuals opened IDA accounts. Of those, about half saved toward buying a first home, about 35 percent saved toward post-secondary education costs, and about 15 percent saved toward opening or developing a small business. The program is now in its fourth year.
“Almost all of the funding stays in South Jersey,” Zmuda said. “Clients are buying homes in Oaklyn, Somerdale, Haddon Heights, West Deptford. They are paying for college at Camden County, Rutgers, Stockton, Rowan, ITT Tech, Pennco Tech.”
For the Smith family, saving has earned them their own home for the first time, while Dana continues to save toward her education.
“The backyard is what sold us,” Cory said. “We had seen a lot of places, but this was the one.”
“The best part is we can do whatever we want with it. It’s our property; we own it,” Dana said. “We’re looking forward to having barbecues, just being outside. We’re always envisioning new projects.”
For more information about Catholic Charities’ matched savings program, visit the website: CatholicCharitiesCamden.org/Asset-Development/IDA