Lutherans in Minnesota

LSS training demystifies financial management

Since 1957, U.S. paper currency and coin (since 1864, for most) includes the motto “In God We Trust.” But, the behavior of most Americans around money betrays such a value. Whether driven by obsession or shame, many people struggle over the ways that they save, spend, or fret over economic resources.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s (LSS) Financial Services sees the results of failed behavior regarding debt and credit daily. But, financial counselors for the program have a tried-and-true track record of supporting individuals who want a better relationship with their finances. Without judgment, they facilitate processes that encourage people to talk about the points of economic stress and ways to regain control over their finances.

Darryl Dahlheimer, program director of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota’s Financial Services, explains the organization’s commitment to demystify financial services through training sessions so that people feel like they have more control over their financial lives. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

“The Four Cornerstones of Financial Literacy” training is offered in a variety of forms, but it is most effective when presented as four two-hour workshops that consider budgeting to create savings, reducing debt and building assets, achieving a good credit rating, and protecting consumer and financial institutions.

Peer support becomes an important aspect of the program.

“When we offer a workshop, everyone in the room is ashamed of [their] credit,” explained Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Services. “It doesn’t really matter what the income of people is, they feel shame.” He says that LSS’s financial counselors are trained to build hope in people’s capacity to make alterations in their situation and to demystify the complicated systems.

“One of the benefits, if you can call them that, of the Great Recession, is that peoples’ trust in banks in anything financial has been changed,” Dahlheimer told Metro Lutheran. He maintains that the structural problems inherent in the system allow people to feel less immobilized by what they had perceived as personal failure.

For counselors, that is one hurdle down. And then they can help to change those behaviors that can improve a person’s financial security.

“Our counselors treat workshop participants as equals, not as learners,” Dahlheimer explains. “They are resources without treating people like they are not capable of understanding money management.”

Because the topic is sensitive for most people, trainers invite participants to share as they are comfortable about what they learned about money as children, and to think through what they hope for in their financial future. Attendees want real-life solutions, not “dry theoreticals,” as Dahlheimer calls abstract concepts that often only further mystify financial systems for individuals. Trainers therefore build on the experience attendees share with each other. Peer support becomes an important aspect of the program.

Not even debt can separate us from God’s love

LSS began its financial service work in 1987 when a Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) agency in Duluth took note of LSS’s statewide reach. The CCCS group saw that families were being devastated by credit card debt, but recognized it didn’t have the capacity to address these issues across the state.

“LSS had a reputation in Minnesota; people knew of the adoption and elder services,” Dahlheimer explains. “So, LSS got involved in financial counseling.” By 2013, he says, there was real desire to offer action steps for those who took part in the program. “We have rebranded to a theme of ‘Conquer Your Debt’ so that we can shift from a paradigm of finances as private and shameful to one of victory and confidence.”

Certified counselors now help develop an individual plan of action, regardless whether the issues are credit, debt, money management, or reaching financial goals.

“People mostly want economic emancipation,” Dahlheimer said. “Our counselors know that the credit pressures people feel are really a public health issue, and we need to learn things like ‘don’t shake the baby.’” He reminds people that they are not trapped by their circumstances; they can make choices that will alleviate the burden they are experiencing.

LSS Financial Counseling has offices in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brainerd, Duluth, Eveleth, St. Louis Park, Mankato, and Willmar, all in Minnesota, as well as in Superior, Wisconsin. For more information or to register for a workshop, visit conqueryourdebt.org. or call 888/ 577-2227.

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