BOISE -- How to pay bills and manage your money can be a major concern during the holiday season.
For those with a troubled financial past who are also unable to open a bank account, it's even more stressful. That's where a newly-formed United Way program called 'Bank On' can help.
United Way teamed up with ten banks and credit unions in the Treasure Valley to start the program in August of 2013.
Those interested can sign up online then attend five financial education courses taught by bank advisers -- for free. Afterward, those with problems opening a bank account can take that earned certificate to any participating bank to open an account.
U.S. Bank District Manager Jennifer Reynolds says the program has allowed her bank to help many families struggling to open accounts.
I've been in the banking industry for 23 years and I've come across hundreds of individuals we simply could not help before this program was in place, said Reynolds.
Reynolds says people without a bank account spend as much as ten percent of their income on fees for check cashing or money orders.
They're using an alternative place for check cashing which is costing them fees and they are using alternative ways to pay their bills, said Reynolds.
She says other customers have suffered financial troubles in the past, and simply need a second chance.
The need is huge, Reynolds said. Bank On addresses a very specific financial need in our community in that we have many individuals who cannot secure a bank account.
Reynolds says having the knowledge to properly manage money is an invaluable tool.
For a family of four living paycheck-to-paycheck, it will make an enormous difference on that individual family, said Reynolds.
ONE GRADUATE'S STORY
Maria Powers graduated from the Bank On program on December 5th.
She still has notes from her recent financial education courses, and says she learned a lot.
I know a lot of people have knowledge of the banks, but there are a lot of us that don't, said Powers.
Powers says she's banked at several locations in the past, but faced some financial issues and was unable to open a new account.
I tried to be real careful -- stressed out, but careful -- because you never want to overdraw, said Powers.
So at 72-years-old, Powers turned to the free Bank On program for help, and for the first time, she's saving with a specific goal in mind: to save $2,000 dollars for a mission trip at church.
I never had any goals, Powers said. Sometimes you live with what you got, and you never think of saving and now I know I can put that aside.
You can learn more about the Bank On program, and sign up yourself, HERE.
Similar programs have been successful in other states. The idea to start one in the Treasure Valley came from Northern Idaho, where banks offer financial classes as well.
Once you graduate from the program, you can chose any participating bank to open an account.