Delaware Today’s Fashion Awards 2013: The Beneficiary

$tand by Me provides free financial help to all Delawareans.

Curtis Drane recognized that he had financial problems. His credit score of just 540 made it nearly impossible for him to get a car loan at a favorable rate—if he was able to get any loan at all. Drane’s problems started years ago in Florida, when he bought a used car that turned out to be a lemon. 

“I was young and naive, and I didn’t know that Florida’s lemon law could help me, so I just defaulted on the loan and turned in the car,” says the Dover Downs chef. Then he began missing credit card payments and skipping out on bills.   

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Financial difficulties are all too common, says Mary Dupont, director of financial empowerment for the state of Delaware. She oversees $tand by Me, a joint project of the state and United Way of Delaware that is committed to helping people learn to manage their money through free one-on-one financial coaching and public education programs. 

“So many people have a lot of debt—the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night,” Dupont says. $tand by Me’s trained financial coaches help clients work to resolve their problems with debt and bad credit. They also instruct clients on how to create and meet a budget and accumulate savings so they can realize dreams such as home ownership or a college education for their children. 

“I was really impressed with what my $tand by Me coach, Jose Martinez, taught me about dealing with creditors,” Drane says. “I didn’t know they had the power to reduce your debt by 50 percent.” Since he began working with Martinez six months ago, Drane has improved his credit score from 540 to 630, a much better rating. And he just bought the car he wanted at a monthly payment he could afford. “That was a major accomplishment for me,” Drane says.

Dover Downs brought on a $tand by Me financial coach specifically to work with its employees, as have numerous other employers. $tand by Me also has financial coaches available free to the public at locations throughout the state, including all campuses of DelTech, the West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington, NCALL Research in Dover and Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County in Bridgeville. 

In addition to financial coaches, $tand by Me offers help with college financial planning through group information nights and one-on-one assistance with financial aid forms and student loans. In 2013 it began offering free help and access to tax preparation software to people who want to file their own taxes.

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Now the organization is rolling out two new programs: one for child-care centers and their employees (including family child-care homes) and one for people over age 50 in partnership with the Wilmington Senior Center and the Delaware Division of Aging. 

$tand by Me was launched by Gov. Jack Markell in 2011 as part of his goal of helping Delawareans to become more financially independent. $tand by Me works with a host of nonprofits, community organizations and businesses. In the past two years, the program has assisted more than 6,000 people. 

“The reality is that many people in Delaware and across the U.S. are struggling to make ends meet,” says Michelle Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Delaware. “Approximately 60 percent of households have an income of $50,000 or below, and it can be hard to support a family, pay a mortgage and run a household on that income.

“$tand by Me is here to work with any Delawarean at any income level who wants to learn to improve their financial situation,” she adds.

Learn more about $tand by Me, its services and locations at $tandbyMeDE.org.

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