New initiative offers affordable So. Fla car loans

admin | 3/22/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Automobiles have long been prized in America as a symbol of status and independence. They are also prized for more mundane, practical reasons mobility. To help more families with poor credit be able to afford transportation, South Florida Urban Ministries (SFUM) recently launched a local branch of the Ways to Work car loan program in Miami-Dade and Broward County. Public transportation is hard for some people to access, particularly in certain areas down South, explained Michelle Edwards-Collie, a loan coach for SFUM. We decided it would be a great opportunity to help those families so they could spend time with each other instead of so many hours taking public transportation. Our job is to offer them a second-chance car loan. Those who are interested in the program and meet the minimum requirements must first take a financial literacy course. Loan amounts vary although the maximum amount given is $6,000 at a rate of 8 percent; loans can be given out for up to 30 months. Payments are made to the national office of the Ways to Work program. Like other loans, there are fines and penalties with late payments and it is possible to default on the entire loan.But SFUM works to prevent clients from ever reaching such ends by sending out payment reminders, offering help with budgeting and even providing job search assistance, explained Edwards-Collie. And because the program reports participants steady payments to the credit bureaus, the program can help improve an individuals credit scores. Ways to Work A recently-released study of the program conducted by ICF International found that 94 percent of the surveyed participants that received the programs low-interest auto loan reported that they were able to improve their employment situations; 93 percent said the loan improved their quality of life. The loan program began in Minneapolis for single parents in 1984 since then it has expanded and now has 55 offices in 23 states. Since its launch in South Florida last September, 15 loans have been closed, 24 clients have been approved for loans and an estimated 279 clients have gone through the training. Access to Success Lionel Lightbourne, 40, a community outreach coordinator at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center, was among the first group of clients to be approved for a loan last November. Before then, the 40-year-old father of seven had to rely upon a vehicle he described as a jalopy. I had a 1995 Grand Marquis that was probably on its last legs, he recalled. Im a community outreach coordinator so I needed reliable transportation because I do a lotof home visits. Eventually, with the low-interest $6,000 car loan facilitated by the Ways to Work program, Lightbourne was able to drive off of a major car dealers lot with his choice of a 2003 Ford Expedition with 91,000 miles. When you buy [a car] from a major dealership, because of the good treatment they give you, it just does something for your dignity, he said. It was a beautiful experience. How to qualify for Ways to Work Car Loan Program: Must be be living with dependent children 18-years-old or younger Must have been working for the past six months Must have low credit scores For more information about SFLUMs Ways to Work program, call 305-834-5214 or send an email to waystowork@sflum.orgBy Kaila Heardkheard@miamitimesonline.com