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Coalition for Debtor Education

posted by Ted Janger & Susan Block-Lieb

Ted and I share more than having co-authored the Texas piece. We also both sit on the board of directors for a non-profit corporation, the Coalition for Debtor Education. The Coalition, the brain-child of Karen Gross (formerly a professor of law at New York Law School and now president of Southern Vermont College), was established in 1998 to improve consumers' understanding and management of their own financial affairs. Over the years, the Coalition has:

  • Produced, published and evaluated a financial literacy curriculum.
  • Designed, implemented, and empirically assessed a pilot financial literacy program that education more than 600 consumer debtors pre-BAPCPA.
  • Licensed our financial education curriculum as a means of assisting the low-cost, high-quality provision of financial literacy education post-BAPCPA; our licensed curriculum has reached more than 18,000 bankruptcy filers nationwide to date.
  • Trained more than 175 debtor educators from around the New York metropolitan area, around the country and abroad.
  • Created and administered a pilot pro se assistance program in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District on New York that streamlined bankruptcy procedures for approximately 1,700 individual filers. This program was adopted into the Court’s FY’07 annual budget.

Currently the Coalition is undertaking a number of new initiatives, including a pilot program to bring financial education workshops to unbanked (or underbanked) populations in New York City. The pilot combines training the staff of various financial institutions to conduct financial literacy workshops at New York City Housing Authority Community Centers. The initial workshops will be held in the South Bronx and will target seniors and teens.

What have we learned from these experiences?  A couple of things: First, we find an enormous satisfaction in helping real people with their real-life problems. Both of us have advised in litigation in big reorganization cases, but this is completely different. Yes, it's exhausting and there are never enough hours in the day...but it's all about how you allocate your time. Second, it has been incredibly important to focus on institutionalizing the non-profit. People float on and off the board and other positions, but the Coalition has continued to do good work. Third, BAPCPA has complicated our ability to provide financial literacy courses to debtors.  We're confused about the interraction between pre-filing counseling (which we hate), and pre-discharge counseling which might, in a different form (more about that later) hold some promise.  We haven't figured out how to become "approved providers" and still retain our day jobs, so we have had to back into a behind-the-scenes training role.  For now, this suits us, but we wonder if debtors are well served by the mandate and all this regulation.  Finally, we can always use help. Look us up at www.debtoreducation.org or shoot us an email.....

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