Iowa Foundation Combines Powerful Financial Well-Being Tools
When confronted with clergy who were burdened by debt, the Iowa United Methodist Foundation (Foundation) decided to help, help and then help some more.
The Foundation administers the Higher Education Loan Partners (H.E.L.P.) program, which has allowed approximately 20 pastors to refinance roughly $500,000 in student loan debt. Through the H.E.L.P. program, loans with interest rates between 6% and 9% are refinanced at 1.15%. Pastors have collectively saved at least $90,000 in interest payments, according to the Reverend Dr. Katharine Yarnell, Executive Director of the Foundation.
The H.E.L.P. program, made possible by a generous donor, has had far-reaching and unexpected effects.
“We had not anticipated that marriages would be stronger because pastors were not as stressed out, and their family life improved,” Yarnell said.
Barring extenuating circumstances, H.E.L.P. program applicants are required to live and serve in Iowa. Yarnell said that the program has enticed clergy to stay in—or, after seminary, return to—Iowa. Yarnell added that the program has reduced the shame some pastors felt about their finances.
“In our culture, if you’re poor, there is an element of, ‘Well, what’s wrong with you?’ and, ‘God doesn’t love you as much and hasn’t blessed you as much because you don’t have as many zeroes behind your numbers in your bank account,’” Yarnell said. “And I think the other thing is, definitely when you do have your finances in order it does impact—and strengthen—your relationship with God because you have more control. Even if the news is bad, you have hope and a plan for getting out of it.”
As part of the H.E.L.P. program, pastors are required to complete a financial class, and this year they had the opportunity to participate in one with a Wesleyan perspective—Saving Grace: A Guide to Financial Well-Being. Yarnell led the personal money management program virtually via Zoom.
The Foundation rewarded the eight pastors in the H.E.L.P. program who completed Saving Grace’s nine-session curriculum by reducing the principal of their loans by $200 each. In addition to the monetary incentive, pastors who completed Saving Grace earned one CEU.
“The Saving Grace curriculum is fantastic,” said Yarnell, adding, “It does require you to do some work and some self-examination.”
Participants who went through Saving Grace, which was developed by Wespath and Abingdon Press, felt it was a good use of their time.
“I feel more confident and less ignorant, and therefore, less intimidated when it comes to addressing our (family’s) finances,” one participant shared with Yarnell.
Another participant said: “The Christian aspect of this is great.”
Yarnell also said she learned from the curriculum. The Reverend Jodi Smith, one of the Saving Grace content experts, delivered a message that resonated with Yarnell.
“Here she is, this super accountant, finance whiz, and she said, ‘Yeah, we were really in trouble with debt,’” Yarnell said. “That was just in some ways reassuring because you might think, ‘Well, I’m not doing well financially because I’m not a financial whiz. And if I just had an accounting and finance degree, I would be fine.’ And it’s like, ‘No.’ We live in a really consumer culture. It’s really easy to get in trouble. We all make financial mistakes.”
If you are interested in creating your own loan refinancing program, please contact Ross Lundstrom at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about how the Initiative can support your efforts and the possibility of matching funds to help start your program.