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Denver financial empowerment office helps thousands of residents reduce debt, save money, avoid debt traps

CoPIRG applauds success of Denver office, state bill SB21-148 could expand success statewide
For Immediate Release

DENVER - CoPIRG released new data highlighting the success of the Denver Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection (OFEP), which in 2020 helped thousands of Denver residents reduce debt by $1.4 million, increase savings by $227,000, avoid $826,000 in tax prep fees, and improve credit scores by an average of 43 points. 

Using a combination of financial coaching, consumer financial protection, navigation services, and a program to extend safer banking products to more people, the Denver OFEP was able to play a critical role in tackling one of the most challenging economic periods in the city’s history. 

“The 2020 data is in and we found that a combination of financial counseling, consumer protection, and banking products with low fees and costs helped a lot of people move toward financial stability and avoid the kinds of pitfalls and predatory traps that can send someone into a cycle of debt,” said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG. “The Denver OFEP was doing good work before the pandemic and that work has continued during the pandemic, helping thousands of people.”

Based on recently released numbers from the Denver OFEP, the office’s different programs and services supported a lot of people in 2020. For example the OFEP:

  • Financial Coaching programs worked with 981 people providing free, one-on-one guidance through multiple sessions on everything from debt reduction strategies to opening a bank account. Program results include total debt reduction of $1,446,920, total savings increase of $226,974, average credit score increase of 43 and assisted approximately 60 home purchases.
  • Completed 2,754 tax returns resulting in $826,200 in tax prep fees avoided, $4,277,799 in federal refunds claimed and $1,530,902 in child tax credits claimed.
  • Connected 161 consumer financial complaintents to resources via the Consumer Financial Protection program for resolution. These complaints involved everything from scams and elder financial abuse to wage theft and housing issues. 
  • Received 73 eviction cases from Denver residents. None of these residents have been evicted to date and are in different stages of resolution from fully resolved to waiting for approved funding or other issues being resolved through free legal and mediation assistance.
  • Approximately 1,100 people opened bank accounts via the Bank on Denver coalition.  These accounts have no overdraft fees and are free or low cost to open.
  • Approximately $300,000 in small business loans have been dispersed, through partnerships with financial institutions for applicants with credit scores as low as 550. Approximately 120 new jobs were created and the loans had less than a 1% default rate.

"The OFEP has helped stabilize families at risk of displacement to keep a roof over their heads. Residents have learned to be more financially resilient and even to create generational wealth through home ownership," said the Director of the OFEP, Jay Salas. "As we continue to address the financial inequity the pandemic has brought to the fore, the data shows that the value of financial empowerment offices cannot be understated."

The Denver OFEP was launched in 2013 with a three-year $1.9M philanthropic grant from Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Since inception, OFEP has engaged nearly 9,000 people via financial coaching, reducing debt by nearly $9 million and increasing savings by $2.8 million. 

CoPIRG highlighted that the Denver OFEP success underscores the role a statewide Office of Financial Empowerment could play to help leverage Denver’s success across the state. State Senator Julie Gonzales, Majority Leader Daneya Esgar and State Representative Kerry Tipper are sponsoring a bill, SB21-148, that would create a state OFE housed in the Attorney General’s office. 

To access the OFEP - Call 720-944-2498 or FEC@denvergov.org

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