These Two Latina Money Coaches Are Helping the Immigrant Community Break Financial Barriers. This Is What They Want Immigrants to Know

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Latina money coaches Maribel Francisco and Delyanne Barros ( Credit: Delyanne Barros/Maribel Francisco/NextAdvisor
Dos asesoras financieras latinas, Maribel Francisco (izquierda) y Delyanne Barros (derecha), aprovechan sus plataformas para informar a los inmigrantes sobre las habilidades de las finanzas.
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Fresh out of college and ready to start her first job, Maribel Francisco’s new employer asked her what she wanted to be paid. With no idea where to begin, she said $40,000.

She soon realized that was less than what she was worth, but when she asked for more, the employer wouldn’t budge. 

It’s a situation Francisco, the first generation of her family born in the United States, hopes to help others avoid. After working as a financial analyst in the entertainment industry, she launched Our Wealth Matters, a platform to help immigrants on their financial journey in the U.S. by coaching them on saving, investing, and retirement planning. 

She’s not alone. Delyanne Barros, a Brazilian-born U.S. citizen, launched her brand, Delyanne the Money Coach, after an unsatisfying career as an attorney. She found investing as an opportunity to work toward financial independence without owning property, and hopes to help others, particularly Latinos, achieve their own version of financial freedom.

Language barriers and a lack of trust in the financial system, Barros and Francisco say, are among the factors that make it difficult to find financial stability in a new country, especially for Latin American immigrants. With the number of foreign-born people in the U.S. rising — currently at an historical high of 44 million, 50% immigrating from Latin America — a growing number of people are in need of foundational advice on how to navigate the American financial system. 

Barros says overcoming these types of hurdles is one of the first steps toward financial stability for this population, which she defines as “the ability to walk away from situations or walk towards situations that are going to increase your happiness.”

Here’s what Barros and Francisco think are the biggest barriers to financial stability for immigrants, and how to begin the process of overcoming them.  

What Does Financial Stability Look Like for Immigrants?

Financial stability for new immigrants can look different depending on each person’s goals. Getting on the grid – establishing credit and opening up a bank account for the first time – is a good first step. It is essential to start building your credit score and credit history as soon as possible, according to Barros. 

Established credit will make it easier to qualify for loans, credit cards, a mortgage, and better interest rates for all of these. Established credit is also crucial for leasing an apartment, as many rental companies check credit reports.

Gaining financial stability means starting with the basic American financial building blocks. Once these building blocks are in place, that is when financial stability starts giving you choices. You can leave an employer that doesn’t value you, negotiate a better salary, or leave an unhealthy relationship with the confidence that you can support yourself financially, says Barros. 

Getting started on the path toward financial stability can be daunting, though. There are aspects of the U.S. financial system and the immigration experience that often make this path even less attainable for the immigrant community. 

Barriers to Financial Stability for Immigrants

Every immigrant’s story is different, but some aspects of the U.S. financial system present common difficulties for new Americans. Here are a few, and how to navigate them.

Language 

One of the largest hurdles for immigrants who want to be financially independent is accessing information in their native language. Financial products can be complicated. That’s true for everyone, but it’s especially true for those whose primary language isn’t English. There can be serious consequences if you aren’t clear what you’re getting into. “The language is purposefully intimidating,” Barros says. 

Through educating the immigrant community in personal finance (in both English and Spanish), Francisco says she tries to boost their awareness of the possibilities available to them. It’s why she decided to produce bilingual content: posting everything in English first, and publishing the exact same content in Spanish the next day. This is how she does her part to combat the language barriers that face Spanish-speaking immigrants. This also helps the families of her audience: She says many will share the Spanish-language versions with their parents and loved ones.

Distrust of the financial system

Immigrants bring with them parts of their home country, like language, culture, and values. Some bring with them a fear of financial institutions, rooted in distrust of their home country’s system. There are more protections in the United States than many other countries and “you’re actually hurting yourself by not engaging with the financial system,” says Barros.

The U.S. financial system offers several safeguards for consumers. For example, banks that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protect up to $250,000 per account in the case of theft or bank failure. Additionally, government agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hold banks accountable and can punish them for breaking the law. All consumers can access the CFPB complaint database, which allows for transparency between banks and customers when it comes to violations of federal regulations and laws. 

Lack of representation in the financial industry

It can be hard for immigrants to find someone who understands their situation. “There’s very little representation [of immigrants] in the financial industry,” Barros says. This often causes immigrants to feel marginalized and can be a deterrent for those who are already distrustful of banks and investing. 

Lack of a Social Security number

Many immigrants who don’t have a Social Security number believe that investing is out of their reach. This is a huge misconception, Francisco says. An individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, allows immigrants to do much more than pay taxes. ITINs can be used for opening up bank accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, and applying for loans. Immigrants can also put money into a 401(k) with an ITIN and receive an employer match. The same goes for immigrants who have work permits through their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, Francisco says. 

Pro Tip

An individual taxpayer identification number, or ITIN, allows immigrants to open up bank accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, loans, and also to pay taxes without a Social Security number. 

4 Steps for Immigrants Accessing the American Financial System for the First Time  

If you’re looking to begin your journey toward financial stability, here are a few basic steps to help you get started.

1. Set goals and intentions

Francisco’s first step with her clients is pushing them to define their “why.” This can range from wanting to retire early, support their family, buying a house, starting a stable career, or simply having a secure lifestyle. Defining a “why” is crucial because it may be the only thing that keeps you from giving up during financial difficulties. “If you have a strong enough ‘why,’ that’s gonna get you through those hardships,” Francisco says. 

2. Start building credit

Your credit score will consist of several factors, primarily your payment history (paying your credit accounts on time) and credit utilization (how much of your available credit you’re using). There are other factors that go into a credit score as well, including the length of your credit history. 

There are a few ways to start building credit if you are brand new to the credit system, Barros says. The first way is to find a family member or close friend who is willing to add you to their account as an authorized user. Becoming an authorized user means that you have access to funds, but the owner of the account remains responsible for paying all bills on time. Another way to start building credit is to get a secured credit card. Secured credit cards have relatively low limits, but once you show that you are a responsible user and you pay your credit card off on time, your bank can convert your secured credit card to an unsecured credit card, and your credit limit will increase. 

3. Choose the right bank that suits your needs 

One of the most important steps toward financial stability is opening a bank account. This may be overwhelming since there are tons of banks out there, so Barros recommends doing your research. A Google search will tell you if a bank has been involved in fraud or some other sketchy behavior. You can also browse the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database to learn about complaints made against a specific bank. 

Some other things you should be looking for are banks with minimal fees and penalties for transferring money between accounts and also banks with accessible customer service. 

At a minimum, confirm the bank is FDIC insured or, if you’re banking with a credit union, be sure that it is NCUA (National Credit Union Association) insured. You can do this by searching a bank name through the FDIC’s BankFind feature or for a credit union using NCUA’s Research a Credit Union 

Finally, Barros suggests you “look for banks that are catering to a specific minority.” This is the best way to ensure that your bank will be empathetic to your situation and cater to your specific needs. For example, if your primary language is Spanish, it will be helpful to find a bank that has Spanish-speaking customer service representatives. Generally, this information can be found on a bank website’s homepage or on their customer service page.

Look for tools at the top of the homepage that allow you to translate the entire website, or look more specifically at whether they have Spanish language options on their customer service page. 

Informed Immigrant is a trustworthy tool to help find local immigrant-serving organizations, clinics, legal help, and other nonprofits. Local organizations like the ones found through Informedimmigrant.com may be able to provide educational resources or translation services if English is not your primary language.

4. Find a community

Growing up as a child with an undocumented father, Francisco was never sure who could be trusted and, as a result, says she and her family simply avoided talking about personal finances with others. To her, “finding community is gonna be key.” Her advice is to find others who talk openly about finances. Some community centers or churches will offer personal finance workshops that can be beneficial for those who don’t know where to start.

The best way to find trustworthy communities is through diligent research, Francisco says. She advises immigrants to reach out to families they know who have been in a similar situation or search for community centers that are specifically servicing the immigrant population. If you’re on social media, find and follow people who are openly talking about the topic you’re interested in, she says. While immigration is a sensitive topic to speak about openly on public platforms, there are influencers doing it on Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube. “Those who are willing to share their stories are usually out to build a community,” Francisco says. 

You may also be able to find nonprofit organizations in your community that help immigrant groups. Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs are financial institutions that prioritize serving communities and populations that typically lack access to financial products and services. Outside of providing financial services, CDFIs often offer courses and programs to help underserved communities develop financial literacy  You can find a CDFI near you using the CDFI locator tool.

The FDIC also offers an educational program, Money Smart, aimed toward people who want to improve their financial literacy and skills.

Don’t Overthink It

Both Barros and Francisco warned that one of the biggest mistakes they see is when people allow fear to prevent them from taking action. For example, Barros says she sees frequently that “fear of being charged interest keeps people from using their credit cards [and] keeps people from building their credit score.” Francisco refers to this fear as “analysis paralysis.” She says that she often has clients who are so overwhelmed by the amount of information floating around, they end up stuck in a place of inaction. This mistake can be avoided by doing your research and asking questions. 

The same can be said for investing. Yes, investing can be risky, but according to Barros, “we reduce the risk by investing over a long period of time.” So, it’s important to start early. The best strategies to invest for the long-term include investing regularly and consistently, and investing in broad index funds. Barros says investing and financial stability can be the difference between “having to work until the day you die versus you being able to retire with dignity in your older years and not having to put a ton of strain onto your children.”

Additional Resources

  • The Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) offers educational resources on building healthy financial habits
  • Mymoney.gov is the national financial education website developed by the FLEC. Here, you can find guidance on how to manage your money and how to financially plan for big life events like buying a home, starting a business, or having a child.
  • The IRS website provides useful information about ITINs and determining your eligibility. It also includes the information you will need if you’re considering applying for an ITIN.