Mia B RussellEach month we spotlight an AFCPE® member who is making great strides in our field. This month, get to know AFCPE member, Mia Russell.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you down the path to become a financial counselor & educator?

My first position, post undergraduate, was with a financial institution (Wells Fargo then Norwest) as a credit counselor. I learned the importance of credit and its impact on all areas of our lives. As with many new careers, I took advantage of other opportunities and also worked in community development, specifically to help increase homeownership among ethnic minority and low-to-moderate income families. I transitioned to self-employment in 2000 and ultimately opened a real estate brokerage. My training as a counselor with Wells Fargo was embedded in all my interactions and with over 15 years in housing and housing-related roles, I wanted to pursue graduate studies in the field. In 2011, I met with Dr. Jinhee Kim to learn more about the UMD doctoral program and a year later she emailed me the UME position announcement. At UME, my experiences and education blend well… it has been a natural progression that I never imagined but am certainly excited to have!

Your project and research interests include workplace financial education and the organizational effects of financial well-being, health insurance literacy, entrepreneurship, and youth financial education. Share a little bit about what you’re working on currently.

Currently, most of my time is spent working on health insurance literacy and youth financial education. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the University of Maryland Extension capitalized on the need to help Americans better understand health insurance. In partnership with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and others across the nation – including many AFCPE Extension Educator members – we have developed and tested a comprehensive, research-based curriculum, Smart Choice Health Insurance™. Pilot tests with 1500 consumers demonstrated reduced confusion and increased confidence and competence of consumers making health insurance decisions. This program has received two national and one state award of excellence. We are now pilot testing Smart Use Health InsuranceThe new curriculum has a strong financial focus, based on the literature, with an emphasis on understanding, estimating and tracking health care costs and insurance coverage. The curriculum will be available in Fall 2016. Youth entrepreneurship and financial education is another exciting area. I enjoy working with youth and helping them to set financial goals. We recently developed a middle school curriculum, Financial Nuggets, and we are pilot testing the curriculum. In fact, we received a grant to use this curriculum, which includes funding ($50) for the participating youth to open bank accounts.

In addition to being an extension educator, you are also a real estate broker. On LinkedIn you say that you “Operate from the philosophy that real estate is one financial “tool”, [and you] strive to help clients construct (realize) their financial goals and dreams.” This is a great philosophy. Was it your position in real estate that inspired you to get become a financial educator and earn your AFC certification?

My experience in the financial services, mortgage, and then real estate certainly helped shape me and definitely served as inspiration. These experiences help me to realize that homeownership is one tool that can help someone achieve financial security. I also began to realize that the dream of homeownership had much to do with many other dreams and aspirations – some of which were related to money and financial stability. While I had financial education and experience, the AFC offered credibility and is well-recognized in the financial education and counseling fields.

What do you find most beneficial about being a member of AFCPE?

AFCPE truly advances and supports financial education. The education, including the annual symposium, journal, webinars, and newsletter, helps me stay informed about the field. I look forward to attending the symposium and always leave with a tremendous amount of information, ideas, and opportunities.

As a financial counselor and educator, what is your favorite personal finance advice?

In terms of savings, start small… just start. I recall a client telling me how she saved $100K in her regular savings account (I was excited at the fact she saved but disappointed that it was in her savings account earning .01%). She started with whatever she could – $5 here, $20 there… and then she included the extras that came her ways like pay increases and any gifts/windfalls. She made it a game – to see how fast she could get to the next thousand by foregoing unnecessary expenses or finding lower prices and saving the difference – and although it took her 15 years, the satisfaction she received was outstanding.

April 28, 2016

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