Pathways provides map to financial wellness, home ownership

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By Steve Van Kooten


Walking into a bank for a home loan (or a car loan, or a personal loan or any kind of financing) can be an intimidating experience, especially for young people with little financial history. Even for older adults, a traumatic injury, illness or other barrier can make the lending process difficult to navigate, and at times, seem impossible.

“Your credit score is too low,” “Interest rates aren’t favorable right now,” and “You don’t fall into our approved ratios,” may make sense to bankers, but to the rest of us, it can seem like strange magic — an alchemy full of vocabulary, formulas and calculations that is almost indecipherable. It’s easy to get lost in the barrage of numbers.

But People’s State Bank in Prairie du Chien, along with the Couleecap of La Crosse, have come up with a new program called Pathways to Housing to help dispel some of that magic and give people a helping hand to financial literacy, managing leasing and renting and the possibility of home ownership.

“One of the things we’ve seen as a community bank over the years is how difficult housing can be for different populations,” said Duane Rogers, senior vice president of lending for People’s State Bank. “As a banker, we handle this every day, but I’ve always seen, on the other side of the desk, people get glassy-eyed because they don’t know all of this.”

Rogers, along with Sheri Bowar, a residential relationship partner manager for People’s State Bank’s Prairie du Chien branch, and others, saw a need in the community. Prairie du Chien, as well as Crawford County, struggles with housing options, and that’s not just for the homeless; it’s also for families looking to transition to a permanent or stable place — a homestead to lay roots in their community.

Pathways is a three-part series that covers financial literacy with an emphasis on different housing options. The first session took place on June 5, where representatives from People’s State Bank and Couleecap provided information about understanding financial responsibility, loans and lending. Rogers said the program could give people direction toward tools used by industry professionals, ways to obtain information on programs that provide financial assistance and knowledge of how to dispute information if needed.

“One of our hopes on this thing is we can bring some education to people that are thinking, I’ve been renting for a while, and now I’m thinking about buying a home,” said Rogers.

In many ways, the finance industry has become more accessible, but it has also become more difficult to traverse for some people. Credit reports and ratings have become an increasingly important figure for obtaining loans and favorable interest rates.

“Credit rating is such a powerful thing in this day and age from a banker’s standpoint. When I first started in banking 30 years ago, I don’t know if we ever looked at or cared about credit scores.”

Rogers added that down payments were among the biggest hurdles for potential owners, especially for first-time buyers.

“A lot of times it’s family that has to help; it’s moms and dads giving some money for the down payment, grandparents, something like that.”

Bowar suggested people considering home ownership should consult with financial institutions to find out where interest rates are, to calculate their potential payments and to look at price ranges for homes within their budget. Rogers added that people can seek pre-approval from banks at that time for financing.

The ultimate goal is for Pathways to disseminate useful information to the community and shepherd people through the financial life cycle that starts when a person goes into a bank for the first time through making one of the biggest financial and life decisions when they purchase their own home.

“Hopefully we can pull together important information and feedback from the audience and take this program to our other locations,” said Rogers.

Pathways to Housing will hold two more informational meetings on June 12 and June 19 from 5–6 p.m. at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Public Library. The session on June 12 will address renting and leasing while the last session on June 19 will focus on the transition to home ownership.

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