Financial Literacy Coordinator Counsels Students on Money Matters
This is the first in a series of stories by SU News, in collaboration with the Office of Financial Literacy, on money management tips and strategies for students. This story highlights the work of the office and that of its financial literacy coordinator, Derek Brainard.
Derek Brainard encourages students to plan for their financial future early and wisely. As the University’s financial literacy coordinator, Brainard knows from professional and personal experience the necessity of understanding prudent money management.
Brainard came to the University from investment company Edward Jones, assisting clients in managing their money as a financial advisor. Before that, he served in the U.S. Navy in Seattle, where, as a young couple, he and his wife strategized and saved their way out of $65,000 in student loan and personal debt.
“Students can get ahead financially because they have time. That’s the main ingredient for wealth building and that’s what these young people have,” Brainard says.
Brainard, who began at the University early this year, counsels students on money matters through the Office of Financial Literacy, which was created earlier this year as part of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs.
Brainard, who earned an associate’s degree in music from Onondaga Community College and a bachelor’s degree in music from Thomas Edison State College, served in the Navy from 2007-2013 as a military musician, performing on the trumpet in the Navy Band Northwest. It was during this time that he was inspired to go into financial services.
“My wife and I spent the first two years in the military learning about basic financial concepts,” Brainard says. They read extensively and attended sessions offered by the military on money matters, budgeting and retirement planning.
“We paid off $65,000 in debt in two years,” he says. “Getting on budget and setting a goal were the top two contributors to our success; it sounds so simple but that’s really what it takes.”
After separating from the Navy, Brainard became an advisor with Edward Jones, where he went through a transition training pipeline for veterans and eventually led the company’s East Syracuse branch office.
“I was doing really well with that career, but I am passionate about coaching, teaching and how we get this information in front of people at a young age,” Brainard says.
Our mission is to provide financial education and promote positive money management for all students.Derek Brainard, financial literacy coordinator
Statistics show many people into their 50s don’t have enough to be self-supporting in retirement, even with Social Security. That’s what led Brainard to the University and the chance to teach young people about how to begin maximizing their financial potential.
Brainard took over the work of the “I Otto Know This!” literacy program and talked with students, staff and faculty about the needs on campus. The decision was made to institutionalize the financial literacy effort and create the Office of Financial Literacy in March.
“Our mission is to provide financial education and promote positive money management for all students,” Brainard says. The office does this in three ways: online educational modules that students can download to learn financial skills; group workshops; and one-on-one coaching.
In the group workshops, Brainard spends time in front of classrooms, whether in freshman forum classes or junior and senior classes, to discuss savings and transitioning to the real world.
“One of the workshops is called Money 101 and, out of hundreds of feedback forms, about 90 percent of students committed to establishing a savings goal. Ninety-seven percent say they understand more about income and taxes,” Brainard says.
One-on-one coaching is where Brainard spends most of his energy.
“The highest value to the student from my experience as an advisor is that face-to-face conversation where we can look at the students’ situation and their numbers,” he says. “We use a tool called My Financial Picture in which we build out a picture of their income, protection and risk, and wealth.”
At the end of the session, students leave with a goal and return for a follow up session the next semester. Students can request a coaching session online.
To extend the work being done, Brainard is training five student coaches, sophomores and juniors, to provide financial counseling. The student coaches can receive credit toward their degree through the training and get paid to coach. Students interested in becoming a coach can submit their resume online.
During counseling sessions, one of the big questions students have is how to start planning their finances. Brainard first looks at any sources of a student’s income, whether from work or family contributions or financial aid, and then encourages students to start an emergency fund, even if it’s only a few dollars every so often.
Other conversations revolve around student loan debt, to help make projections for the future and their career outlook for paying off their debt.
“In the news you hear that student loans total over $1.4 trillion in the U.S.,” Brainard says. Studies also find college grads are delaying major life decisions, such as buying a home and starting a family, because of trepidation about debt loads.
“We want our students to not only have a fantastic, marketable degree but also an awareness of how to manage money and make decisions that could help mitigate the amount they borrow—where they can leave here and have a kickstart into the workforce and adult life,” Brainard says.