If you’ve been in jail or prison for a while, it may have been a long time since you handled finances, balanced a checkbook or dealt with such monthly payments as rent, transportation and possibly child support.
You may, in fact, come out of prison already in debt from nonpayment of credit cards, child support and/or fees related to the crime you committed, court costs or the services you require. Many states charge parole supervision fees, which are not usually very high but for someone who is out of work may be an added burden.
Unpaid and continuing child support can be an exceptional challenge. A study of Colorado parolees cited in “Repaying Debts,” a 2007 report published by the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments, discovered that they owed on average $16,600 in child support.
Whether you owe anything or are debt free, it’s essential to learn how to manage money. Some reentry programs will offer workshops to help you to succeed in this area. If you can’t find a workshop, set up your own money management system.
The first thing to do, if you owe anyone money, is to make a list of all your creditors and how much you owe each. If you don’t think you will be able to pay the monthly payments, contact a credit counseling agency, but you have to be careful with these, since some of them are unethical.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a database of approved credit counseling agencies listed by state on its website. You can find it at http://www.justice.gov/ust/eo/bapcpa/ccde/cc_approved.htm
The National Federation for Credit Counseling is a national organization whose more than 700 members in 50 states and Puerto Rico are nonprofit, community-based agencies that provide free or low-cost credit counseling. You can search the site by state or zip code to find the member agency nearest you at www.nfcc.org
Whether you owe money or not, it’s important to set up a budget listing your monthly expenses, including housing, food, transportation, clothing, child expenses, medical care, etc. Try to economize as much as possible and stick to the budget, avoiding impulse purchases of things you might want but don’t need.
A great site run by the U.S. Federal government educates Americans on all matters related to money, including how to take care of your finances, create a budget, save money, determine whether a credit or a debit card makes more sense and other matters that will help you as you begin to put your finances in order. Find it at www.mymoney.gov
The National Endowment for Financial Education runs another excellent site, Smart About Money, that is dedicated to educating people about financial goals and is filled with how-to articles and tools to help you achieve your own goals. Check it out at www.smartaboutmoney.org
If you’re computer savvy, you might want to consider working with Mint, a website that will help you organize all of your accounts in one place, set a budget, create financial goals that it will track and recommend ways you can save money. Learn more at www.mint.com