Each April, Financial Literacy Month offers an important opportunity to educate consumers on the fundamentals of personal finance – from how checking accounts and credit cards work to how to establish a basic household budget. This should be a year-round commitment by our community because it is so fundamentally important to making financially responsible decisions integral to the everyday lives of our residents.

Financial literacy can also be an issue for entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can benefit from help improving their credit and their business plans. A healthier small business means more stability for workers, and the communities they live in. That’s a key goal of the work done in economically disadvantaged areas in Southeastern Michigan by the Detroit-based CEED Lending, an initiative of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council.

Just as many large corporations benefit from advisors and professional partners, the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council believes female and minority business owners located in under-resourced communities can benefit from the same types of partnerships.

Financial literacy is a critical topic for Citizens Bank, as it is for many banks and financial institutions. This year, the Citizens Helping Citizens Manage Money program will improve the financial education of more than 260,000 individuals by supporting financial literacy initiatives at 80 local community organizations, which includes $1.4 million in donations to nonprofit partners and volunteer outreach by Citizens colleagues.

In Southeastern Michigan, Citizens has this year donated $100,000 to five nonprofit organizations – including the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council – that strive to improve the financial knowledge of local students, entrepreneurs, small business owners and others. These donations are viewed as an investment in the future of Greater Detroit.

The Citizens Helping Citizens Manage Money grants in Southeastern Michigan will support a variety of financial literacy-related efforts. At the Great Lakes Woman’s Business Council, the donation will be used to support the Detroit-based small businesses through the CEED Lending loan program. Small business financial education – provided one-on-one and in group sessions – is a critical component of the program.

The Great Lakes Women’s Business Council is committed to economically empowering women and minorities so that they have a better chance of succeeding with their small businesses.  Services include business development training, vendor certification, business-to-business networking and accessible capital assistance programs.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently spoke about the importance of financial literacy training in creating strong household finances which contribute to the growth and stability of our national economy. She said, “Whenever I am asked what policies and initiatives could do the most to spur economic growth and raise living standards, improving education is at the top of my list.”

Citizens Bank’s research shows the average consumer has questions about the core financial challenges they face today but many think they don’t have the ability to tap into the expertise they need. The good news: they’re not in it alone.

Banks can offer the kind of financial expertise these consumers desperately need, but don’t realize is available to them. Financial advice on everything from saving for retirement to financing an education to even managing budgets is as close as the local bank branch.

Nonprofit organizations like the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council and the four other Southeastern Michigan agencies Citizens gave contributions to this spring can help as well. It’s important for consumers to know that resources exist in every city and state to help them achieve their financial goals.

Citizens also provides free online resources to everyone through the new Financial Fundamentals hub at www.content.citizensbank.com/financialfundamentals. The site includes basic information on budgeting and saving, managing debt, getting credit, buying a home, protecting your identity and more. Citizens also will be posting financial tips and advice on social media channels throughout April, which is Financial Literacy Month, and inviting our followers to join us in a savings challenge.

We encourage consumers to improve their financial education by talking to their banker, visiting Citizens’ website or contacting a local non-profit that offers financial counseling.

We know that money doesn’t come with instructions but believe that when consumers are educated, they have the confidence and knowledge to make informed financial decisions for themselves, their families and their futures.

Editor’s Note: Rick Hampson is President of Citizens Bank, Michigan. Michelle Richards is Executive Director of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council. Daily Detroit is a platform for conversation and guest submissions are always welcome for consideration. Just get in touch here.

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