Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Athena Lent of “Money Smart Latina” and Eric dive into the important lessons Athena learned while spending time with Junior Achievement students and how these lessons would later start Athena’s career in personal finance education. We’ll discuss the systemic issues facing Latinx people, particularly Latina women, and how alternative banking solutions like Payactiv can help lift people out of poverty by offering free tools, financial support, education, and protection from fee snowballs.
Payacitv offers free 1:1 financial counseling in the Payactiv app (text and data rates apply), and the Payactiv Visa Card* has no overdraft fees, no monthly fees, and no minimum balance fees. Follow Athena on Slate’s weekly finance column “Pay Dirt”.
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Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Payactiv Podcast. Please remember that I am not a certified financial advisor and this podcast is made for education and entertainment purposes only. Thank you.
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Payactiv Podcast. As always, I am your host, Eric Rosenberg. And today we have a really cool episode with one of my favorite guests we’ve had yet lined up. It is my very good friend, Athena Lent. She comes from the website Podcast Blog. She’s on all sorts of great things. We’ll let her explain it, she does a better job than me, but she is really a great and knowledgeable person from the site Money Smart Latina. We’ill dive in with her in just a moment.
Welcome, everyone. I am excited to be sitting with my very good friend, Athena. Welcome to this show. We’re glad to have you.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
So could you tell us a little bit more about your background? I know you’ve been involved in the personal finance content community for a long time, longer than some of us would like to think, we’re aging. It’s weird to think about getting older.
But we’ve been doing this a while and I know you’ve been around the personal finance block, so to speak. So could you share a little bit about your background and expertise and how you got involved with creating content about money online?
Well, I first started one of my online ventures when I was a broke college student. I had just graduated with one of my college degrees and we were entering the great recession. So that sucked, that really affected me and my finances.
I graduated with a criminal justice degree and a lot of government offices like police departments, city officials, that’s all stuff you would go into with a criminal justice degree, but they were all on hiring freezes. And so I had to just make my career in the non-profit sector work. So that’s how I started dabbling into personal finance, but I got serious in 2014.
I was teaching at a Title I school and we were doing Junior Achievement, which is a very common non-profit organization across the country that goes into classrooms and teaches students that are elementary-junior high school age about personal finance.
And so we were doing the curriculum and my students asked me if one of these questions was false. And they asked me a question about tax on food. And I’m nitpicking in my head and I’m like, okay, well, if it’s regular food, it’s not taxed, if it’s pre-made, then it is taxed. And I was trying to think of a way to explain that to my eighth graders. And they’re like, oh, you don’t pay taxes with food stamps, this one’s false.
And I was like, wait, not everybody buys food with food stamps. And my students were like, well, then how do you eat? They literally all got food stamps. They were all Latino. It’s a Title I school and not a destitute part of Phoenix, but it’s a low-income area. It was just really eye-opening, because they all thought everyone got food stamps.
And I was like, I don’t get food stamps. And they’re like, “Well, how do you eat?”
And I was like, “I buy my food with a debit card.” And they’re like, “You don’t buy food with debit cards, you buy them EBT cards.”
And it was really just eye-opening to me. You don’t know what you don’t know. And so it was really eye-opening to me that a lot of my students didn’t know how currency worked and different opportunities that were presented to them because their social capital, everyone they knew maybe didn’t have those same opportunities and now they did, but they didn’t know how to take advantage of them. And so that’s really how I started working with the Latino community.
Wow. That’s an incredible insight. I’ve also done junior achievement. I wasn’t a teacher, but I was a volunteer. So I did get into some classrooms, and at some big companies I’ve worked for back in my career, there was this deal where if employees could work with certain schools and low-income areas, it was a win-win for everybody. So they’d send us for a work day or two to go into classrooms. And I thought it was wonderful. I thought it was such a great thing to teach kids about money and seeing how they light up and get excited to learn new things about anything is exciting.
I mean, normally it’s like dinosaurs and rocket ships, but if it’s Benjamins in your wallet, that’s pretty cool too. And hopefully, we can help them earn some Benjamins along the way. It’s a tough world out there. And coming from the perspective of not even knowing that you can buy groceries with something other than food stamps that’s the perspective, that’s what they’ve seen in their communities growing up. So being able to give them that wider education, wider vantage point might help them get set up for success. So kudos to you for getting involved with those young ones. It’s a great program, Junior Achievement.
I love working with kids. I just recently jumped into freelancing full-time earlier this year, but I really liked working with high schoolers and middle schoolers and just teaching them about personal finance and different opportunities, such as education that were open to them. Yeah I taught them how to write a check, even though they’re pretty obsolete. I taught them how to balance a checking account, all that kind of stuff. And so I thought it was really cool for them to know about those opportunities. So then when they actually can open a checking account, they understand how it works and they don’t get turned over to check systems or something.
Many schools, I think it’s still most, don’t have any kind of personal finance education. A few are starting to, some state curriculums are adding it, but unless you are lucky to have a teacher like Athena or a Junior Achievement volunteer, you probably wouldn’t learn anything about money in school, other than that it exists. It’s something that you want more of.
Yeah, it’s there, it’s green. Sometimes it goes into a building. I don’t really know much other than that.
Yeah. It can definitely be eye-opening. To pivot a little bit, you definitely had an inside view of Latino, Latina, Latinx communities who were coming from financial disadvantages or financial challenges. Now, from your perspective, being someone who is more educated about finances and what people should and shouldn’t be doing and how the economy works, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the Latino community financially?
One of the biggest challenges that is facing the Latino community is that they are not prime candidates for financial products. So a lot of them, not a lot of them, but part of our population, they get their visa and they come over here and they’re working or they just have an employee identification number. They can’t open a traditional checking account. You need a social security number to access a traditional checking account and a lot of people don’t. So they could be here, they can be here legally and working and paying taxes, but they still can’t open a checking account or get a loan or anything like that because they can’t provide a social. So I think that is definitely one of the issues that’s facing the Latino community. Like I said, a lot of people, not a lot of people, but some people don’t understand how a checking account works.
I am a second-generation Latina. My grandma came from Spain and I didn’t understand how money worked because they kept their money in a cookie jar under the bed. And so a lot of Latino families hold onto cash because they don’t trust traditional banking systems. And so we keep our money there and it didn’t help that my parents always wrote bad checks. So I did myself didn’t understand how a checking account worked. And I was turned over to check systems when I was 19. And so it was really hard for a while. So I think that is definitely one of the issues that is facing the Latino community. Like I said, a lot of us aren’t prime targets for different financial tools, and a lot of us don’t know what’s out there, we don’t know what a good interest rate is on a loan.
Or we don’t know that there are alternatives to different things like Payactiv is an alternative option to a bank account. So a lot of people don’t know about those types of tools. And I also think another thing that is facing the Latino community, and I think this is facing the low-income people in general and it’s not fair at all is that financial advisors look over them. And so traditional financial advisors, you come in, they want to see that you have a substantial amount of assets to your name, and they’re hoping to open a brokerage account with you or some other type of investing tool because they’re getting commissioned from the company that they work for.
And so the lower amount of money you walk in there with, the less likely they are to take you seriously or even think that you’re a good candidate for them and they’re going to look over you. And I think that’s really unfair because a lot of Latinos are starting to build that generational wealth. They’re starting to accumulate those assets, but because they don’t have the significant amount yet, they’re overlooked and they’re not given the same opportunities as other people would be.
Yeah. That seems like a cycle that’s tough to break when you can’t access the regular traditional banking system and you’re living in cash, it makes it harder to build up assets. There’s a handful of systemic reasons why that could be more difficult. Then if you don’t have the education already coming from, we talked about, you’re not getting it at school. If you get taught anything about money by your family, you’re lucky. But about half the time, you’re probably getting “bad lessons”. Your parents are probably meaning well, but they don’t always know what they’re talking about either. Then when you try to go to the financial professionals, unless you have a six-figure investment account, a lot of them don’t want to talk to you. So it’s a really tough cycle to break out of, and I’m actually glad you brought up that last point.
Because as I’ve mentioned on the podcast before, anyone who uses Payactiv can get access to free financial counseling and free financial advising sessions. You just have to open up the app, tap a button and it costs $0. And right before we hit record, I was saying to Athena, it doesn’t matter if you have $10 or $10 million, it always helps to have a professional with a fresh set of eyes look at your financial situation. So whether you are spending too much or not saving enough, and maybe you’re not, maybe you’re doing everything just right, and when you’re a low-income worker, sometimes it’s just tough to get by, you can’t cut it anymore. But by having someone help, you know that you are confidently making the right decisions for your money going forward.
And even if you have short-term challenges, you can set those long-term goals to help your family, whether it’s sending your kids to college or setting up your own retirement funds and accounts for your golden years, there’s a lot of long term things that are hard to achieve and even harder when you don’t know that you need to be achieving them. Yeah. So that’s a great way to access that information. So I’m thrilled you brought that up.
Outside of those challenges, I know there’s a lot of good things happening as well. There are people getting into the banking system and the financial system. What do you see as really good opportunities in the Latino community right now? And where do you see successes? Where are the highlights and the good points where people are doing well?
I think one of the successes is seeing a lot of Latino women start to move up the career ladder. So I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but Latinas statistically get paid the lowest out of everybody. So statistically, a woman makes 84 cents to a white guy’s dollar. If you are a different race than a white woman, it significantly goes lower. And so the last time I checked Latinas are paid 54 cents to every dollar that a white male makes statistically. And so not only are we getting paid less in general as women, but Latinos are getting paid less overall. And so it’s really hard for us to build wealth, but I see a lot more Latinas that are interested in personal finance. I see a lot of financial creators that are hitting the Latino market. I see people that are doing financial education like dual speakers.
So they’re giving it in English and they’re doing it in Spanish. And I think that’s amazing. We need more people who are educated and can speak Spanish and can give good examples to our community. And I think that is really one highlight that I’d like to see. And we’re both involved with this personal finance conference. And a lot of the speakers this year are Latinas. And I was just like, “Yeah, get it girl.”
But I mean, it was really cool and it was really eye-opening to see that people are taking us seriously and that we’re starting to get more opportunities career-wise. And I think that overall is just a huge financial win. Different tools like Payactiv and other tools that are trying to go into lower income communities and do personal finance information, education.
That is also a huge thing because sometimes, like I said, we don’t know how to use, people in general, don’t know how to use a checking account. They get turned over into check systems or telecheck and they can’t open a traditional account. So an alternative to a checking account, I think that is a huge thing. And I think FinTech has really helped make personal finance accessible to more people. That’s FinTech and everything, but I think that’s where we’re going. And so the more tools that we get to our population in different channels, I think the better off we’ll be. But I think those are some of the wins and some of the successes that we’re having.
Oh, that’s great, yeah. When I think about, as you’re talking about families who live in cash and don’t have access to traditional banks, they can’t shop at places like Amazon or use services like Uber or Lyft and while that might not seem like a big deal like, oh, you’re not shopping at some big online store, sometimes there are much better deals. And if you don’t have access, you could be locked out of that. Maybe if you’re living on cash, you have to take a traditional taxi rather than a much lower cost ride share. Yeah, there’s a lot of extra things you can get stuck with if you are living in cash. Aside from the risks of, if you lose it or it’s stolen or there’s a fire, or who knows what? So cash can be tough to live on, for sure.
Yeah. And a lot of people who can’t have access to a checking account, what they end up doing is getting a prepaid visa. And so you think, oh, okay, well, you do have an option, it’s a prepaid visa. They’ll go get it at Walgreens or something. But a lot of those prepaid visas actually have a lot of fees associated. So not only is it like, say I put a $100 down, not only do they need a $10 like fee, but it’s like every time I use it, they’ll dock me a dollar. And so it’s like, okay, well, a dollar here, a dollar there, that’s not that big of a deal, but that adds up over time.
Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah. It could be a huge challenge thinking through the huge costs of those services. They’re not regulated as tightly as banks. So sometimes I’ve heard horror stories of people’s money getting locked up. And if you are paid with a check and you’re going to a check cashing business to cash your check, maybe you’re paying 10 to 20% of your paycheck right there to get your money, and then you’re paying again to load it back onto one of these prepaid cards. Before you’ve bought anything with it, you might have already given 30 to 40% of your money away in fees. So it’s very important to think about those financial products and services you choose to use. And that’s part of why I’m so proud of working with Payactiv because there are not big fees. You can use it virtually with no fees, if you use it as intended. I don’t think there are any fees. You could possibly be charged for the bank-type features. So that’s a great tool.
And I think that’s amazing too, because another thing that I just came to mind is Latinos are very family-oriented. We’re all about our family and that’s why we have a lot of multi-generational living. And so we were doing it before it was cool before the pandemic hit. But we have a lot of multi-generational housing and we have family that’s still in other countries. We feel like sometimes it’s our duty to support for them, give them financial support. And so if you are running off cash, you’re having to use Western Union and Western Union is going to jack up the fees and not everybody has access to… Even in Mexico, not everybody has access to a Western Union. So if you don’t have a traditional banking service, that’s hard too.
Well, there’s a laundry list of services that you just can’t use easily if you don’t have a bank account or something very similar to a bank account. So it’s so important for people to get into the financial system. So things like check cashing, you could go pay someone 20% of your paycheck, or if you have an account with Payactiv, you snap a picture with your phone using an app and it costs $0 and you have access instantly and you didn’t have to go ride the bus or drive over there and wait in a long line and show your ID and deal with the rude person behind the counter and all the hassles of it. You can just sit.
Make sure you get there by 6:00 PM. And when you get off at 5:00 or 5:30.
There’s just so many challenges. And if you have a financial account with an app on your phone, you can just snap a picture of that check and it’s in the account, it’s done. So there’s all these benefits, time-saving, money-saving, it goes on and on. Anyway, well, we’re running towards the end of our time, but before we go, we always like to chat about, I know we have listeners who are business executives, the HR executives, and CEOs who help make decisions around benefits and what resources they offer to their employees and their valued workers. Because obviously, as we all know, if you’ve ever been in a management position of any kind, you can’t succeed without your team. So it’s important to take good care of them. So if you were speaking to a room full of HR managers and CEOs who had a large Latino workforce, what advice would you give them to help their workers thrive?
I would really make sure that they understand FMLA and how it works. A lot of Latinos, especially like I said, we’re very family-oriented and a lot of Latinos will drop out of the workforce to take care of a sick child or a sick parent, or they just have health issues in general. And every time you drop out of the workforce, you lose money, lose your earning potential because then you have to start all over again at a new job. And so FMLA will allow you to actually take time off without you losing your job and having to start over so you can take care of your family. And I think that is really important for people, in general, to know about. But I also think it’s really important for HR to make sure they let their Latinos or Latinx, make sure they let them know that this is a service, this is a benefit, this is a legal right that’s offered to you and take advantage of it so you don’t have to restart your career over and over again.
Yeah, that’s a good one to point out. In the United States, we have very few worker protections from the national government compared to a lot of other countries. But that FMLA, the Family Medical Leave Act is an important law that every worker should know about. Absolutely. I’m glad you brought that one up.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise. It’s always fun chatting with you, and it was a pleasure to have you here on this show. If anyone wants to hear your voice or read your words or see all of the other great things you do online, where should they head to learn more?
So I actually have a weekly personal finance column for Slate Magazine. It’s called Pay Dirt. So you can go to , and you can find my column, it’s published every week. And then I also have the website Money Smart Latina, where I give general personal finance advice that anybody can benefit from. And then I actually am writing Budgeting For Dummies for the Wiley series For Dummies. And my book will be on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. And your favorite retailer on May 2nd, 2023.
Wow. I’m going to put that one on my pre-order list right now. That sounds like a good read.
Well, thank you so much, everyone for listening with us till the end. Thank you so much, Athena, for hanging out with us. And as we always like to say at the end of our shows, go on out there and live the life you’ve earned. Thank you so much for being with us today. Have a great rest of your week. Bye-bye.
* The Payactiv Visa Prepaid Card is issued by Central Bank of Kansas City, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Certain fees, terms, and conditions are associated with the approval, maintenance, and use of the Card. You should consult your Cardholder Agreement and the Fee Schedule at payactiv.com/card411. If you have questions regarding the Card or such fees, terms, and conditions, you can contact us toll free at 1 (877) 747-5862, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Central Bank of Kansas City is the issuer of the Payactiv Visa Prepaid Card only and does not administer, endorse, nor is liable for the Payactiv App.
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* The Payactiv Visa Prepaid Card is issued by Central Bank of Kansas City, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Certain fees, terms, and conditions are associated with the approval, maintenance, and use of the Card. You should consult your Cardholder Agreement and the Fee Schedule at payactiv.com/card411. If you have questions regarding the Card or such fees, terms, and conditions, you can contact us toll-free at 877-747-5862, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
** Central Bank of Kansas City is the issuer of the Payactiv Visa Prepaid Card only and does not administer, endorse, nor is liable for the Payctiv App.
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