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Bank employee teaches consumers financial wellness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sheila Spotts draws on personal experience when she talks to kids and young adults about financial issues.

She was laid off twice in seven years. "I get it. I know what it's like when your income drops and you've got to make changes," said the 33-year-old.

Now, it's her job as financial wellness coordinator with Fifth Third Bank to teach others how to manage their credit, to budget their money and to save some of it.

She advises families to start early educating their children by explaining that they worked for their money and what it pays for.

Today's parents have it a little harder, Spotts concedes. "There's always something kids want. They know their parents have access to cash. They know what an ATM machine is -- it may be 11 at night but they know they can get money."

She suggests giving an allowance when children are in the third grade. "They can do basic math by then -- and chores."

Teach the child to divide the allowance into portions for charity, savings and, as one parent did, deduct a portion for taxes. That lessens the shock of their first real paycheck, she said.

When the child wants something -- from a cellphone to a car -- require them to use their own money to pay for all or part of it. Said Spotts, "They'll appreciate it more."

And before making those purchases, Spotts said parents should point out the hidden and extra costs -- the cellphone plan and, for the car, the insurance, gas and taxes.

For older teenagers opening their first checking account, Spotts is adamant that they manage that account by recording their withdrawals in a transaction register -- either on paper or online.

There are so many ways now to check your bank balance by calling or at the ATM or even though a phone app. But writing it down, she said, lets teens see exactly how their money is being spent -- or wasted.

Spotts is a traditionalist in that she preaches saving money until there is cash for a purchase, but she does recognize that credit cards are sometimes a necessity, especially for students headed to college.

Those students need more tutoring in credit card use other than their parents' directive not to use it. Spotts uses a game to illustrate how interest grows when the principal isn't paid down. If possible, she recommends leaving unpaid no more than 30 percent of the rolling balance of a credit card's limit. For teens, a low limit, such as $500, will prevent them from descending too far into debt if they misuse credit.

It's not just teens who accumulate credit debit or bounce checks. Many adults do too.

In her job, Spotts holds free workshops for employees of companies and businesses that sign up with the bank's Financial Wellness Initiative. She surveys her audience about their financial concerns.

"Nine out of 10 want information on credit. No. 2 is tips on saving and budgeting," she said.

She said people want to know how to get credit, improve their credit and restore a bad credit ranking. "They assume that once they mess up, they can't recover. There are ways to recover from a bad credit score."

Spotts said she wasn't prepared when she was first laid off at age 24. Though her degree from Hampton University in Virginia was in biology, she had worked for five years, getting promotions and more pay, for a national retail chain. The chain laid off 400 employees nationwide.

She had always "paid myself first" and put money away for a rainy day, just not enough. "You should have six months to a year's worth of savings, if you can," she said.

She believes everyone can save some amount, even if it's $5 a week. With automatic savings deposits from paychecks, "you don't miss it if it's automatically pulled out."

Spotts has three savings accounts: one for vacation, one for Christmas and one for emergencies. She just closed a fourth account in which she saved to buy her sister a computer as a high school graduation present.

The accounts were all with Fifth Third's Goal Setter Savings program, perhaps similar to what other banks offer. She sets a goal of how much money she wants to save for vacation. When she reaches that amount, the bank rewards her by matching the interest she's earned on her savings account.

Spotts said she enjoys showing people ways to save and budget their money. In the workshops she teaches, "People open up and talk. They have stories and life experiences that play into their finances."

She recalled reassuring one embarrassed woman who was divorced after 25 years of marriage. "She had never paid a bill or written a check," Spotts said.

She says the classes are a way for employers to show they care about their employees by helping them manage the main source of stress in their lives -- finances.

Spotts will also be among the bank employees giving free financial advice when Fifth Third brings its Financial Empowerment Mobile to Charleston. The 40-foot bus equipped with computers will be parked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 19 and 20 at Abundant Life Ministries and West Virginia Health Right, 1534 Washington St. E.

On the bus, consumers will be able to get free credit reports, meet one-on-one with a banking expert, talk with a consumer credit counselor and conduct online job searches.

"September is going to be a busy month," said Spotts, who's also working on the finance part of a finance and health fair that a large employer is staging for his managers at the Charleston Civic Center.

If you don't find her at work, Spotts said to check out Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, in Huntington, where she is the pianist for eight choirs and the co-director of the youth choir. She also can be contacted at 304-353-4123 or sheila.spots@53.com.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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