New financial education leader helps young people build better futures

May 22, 2018

Neal Richardson takes a hands-on, and sometimes hands-dirty, approach to financial education.

U.S. Bank’s new head of financial education is devoted to helping young people avoid the money mistakes he made.

Neal Richardson has already been teaching at-risk teens through an innovative nonprofit he founded in St. Louis. Now, after mastering the complexities of tax credit financing at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation in St. Louis, he’s combining his passion and financial acumen into a nationwide role as financial education strategy manager.

“Finances were never spoken of in my household. I had to learn through experience. It is almost taboo in some households to talk about finances, especially in lower-incomes. When you bring up money, it’s a negative feeling, so it’s not discussed,” said Richardson, who grew up in a working-class family.

That led to some hard financial insights.

“The toughest lessons I learned were settling for college loans rather than seeking scholarships or other aid, and not understanding the negative impact this debt and high-utilization of credit would have on my credit score,” he said. “I had $80,000 in student loan debt. That set me back in saving money for myself or my daughter’s education.”

Richardson, 30, began sharing his knowledge with at-risk youth in a nonprofit he founded with a church friend, Michael Woods, in 2016. Dream Builders 4 Equity teaches teenaged boys from an alternative school personal finance, home renovation skills and, eventually, how to sell homes they renovate. 

The students are rehabilitating a dilapidated vacant home Woods had purchased for a pittance from the city in Richardson’s childhood neighborhood. The renovation is hard, dirty and unfamiliar to the students. 

But come Saturday morning, at least one of the students, including a neighborhood teen who joined the group because he was intrigued by the rehab, will eagerly text Richardson to ask if they are working that day. 

“At first, I was slacking; school irritated me.  But this has changed me and why I’m in school,” said student Jermaine Grimmett Jr. “Now I have something to look forward to. I’m starting to pass my classes, and I had the highest work rate in class” one recent week.

Grimmett and fellow Dream Builder Marvin Thomas (pictured above on right and left, respectively) said the rehab and financial education spurred them to dream of careers. They both want to become union tradesmen. 

But learning the rehab and financial skills aren’t the aspects of Dream Builders that Grimmett and Thomas are most proud of. It’s having their writing about their lives featured in a book titled Together We can Break Chains. Profits from book sales go into accounts that the students can spend as they wish — after a bit of financial coaching from Woods and Richardson, of course. 

“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jermaine said of having his words published.

Once the house is renovated and sold, the students will share in the profits. That’s part of Richardson’s plan to get the young men to dream of the future and have the financial knowledge to make it happen. 

“Poverty is a mindset,” Richardson said. “Through financial education, we show them that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.”

These are lessons Richardson is thrilled to be able to offer on a national basis through the U.S. Bank financial education initiative. That includes the bank’s new Financial IQ education website.

“What I’m most excited about is making an impact across the country,” he said. “To me this is one of the most important roles in the bank— to show people that banks and financial institutions can be trusted. If they have the right education and resources, it makes everyone better off in our community.”

Shera Dalin works in public affairs and communications at U.S. Bank. Providing financial education is core to the bank’s Community Possible platform, which focuses its giving and volunteerism on closing the gap between people and possibility in the areas of Work, Home and Play.

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