Health and Human Sciences specialists at Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension Service have started a free online program to improve financial literacy and sharpen personal finance skills.

Its “Where Does Your Money Go?” program helps people track and plan their spending and savings by setting up a basic budgeting process for that and acquaints participants with some of the latest best practices of personal finance.

Purdue Extension recently adapted the program for an online platform in order to make it available during the COVID-19 pandemic without in-person classroom instruction.

The six-module course includes downloadable forms participants can use to track their spending, self-assessments and interactive activities as well as videos.

Participants are advised to allow four to six weeks to complete the modules and associated activities, but they can proceed through it at their own pace.

“The goal of the course is to increase your financial knowledge and resources so you can manage your personal finances better,” Naomi Bechtold, a Purdue Extension family resource management, said in an announcement.

“Managing money takes learned skills and we hope that this program will help anyone who wants to learn or improve those skills,” said Bechtold, who organized the course.

Participants will come to understand through the course how current money management practices affect their immediate and long-term financial security.

They also will learn how to establish good financial management practices and develop habits that contribute to personal financial security.

They will explore and discuss best practices, which will include identifying spending leaks while tracking expenses. And they will learn to prioritize essential over discretionary spending as they establish written financial goals.

To register for the program, go to https://bit.ly/WDYMGOnlineRegistrationLink.

Centier starts online financial courses

Merrillville-based Centier Bank has started an online financial education series.

The bank has offered in-person budgeting and financial wellness education for years at its branches and other locations across the state, including local libraries. It decided to make its Centier To You sessions available online so people could access them from anywhere at their convenience, it said in an announcement.

“As a financial institution, we feel it’s our responsibility to provide easily accessible resources and tools to educate people on money management,” Michael Schrage, Centier’s president and CEO, said in the announcement.

“For 125 years, we’ve given our guidance and expertise to providing financial education programs, and we’ve continued that commitment today with our new e-Course series.”

In addition to the education sessions, the web pages where they are found offer a variety of tips to help people work toward their financial goals and also cover topics from credit to home buying to identity theft, said Lauren Zurbriggen, the bank’s financial education and community outreach coordinator.

The bank has made a Centier To You e-course on identity theft available on the web pages, which she said has become increasingly important as scams have become more frequent and complex, targeting mobile phone as well as desktop computer users via social media as well as email.

“Access to the Centier to You educational resources is free, and was created in response to our community needs. Now more than ever, it is important to help the community stay informed and educated on money management,” Zurbriggen said.

“This website gives them immediate access to a database of educational resources, including our new e-Course on identify theft. We are excited to expand our Centier to You financial education initiatives to continue to provide them to anyone, anywhere, and at no cost.”

To access the Centier To You identity theft and financial wellness online education, go to centier.com/financial-education.

McKee named social responsibility director

Scott McKee, a banking veteran with more than 30 years of experience, will lead philanthropy, volunteerism, community relations and community reinvestment for First Merchants Corp. as its corporate social responsibility director.

His appointment follows discussions that leadership of the Muncie-based bank holding company began last year involving changes it could make to support core values of community leadership, organic growth and social responsibility, according to a news release.

“First Merchants believes in taking care of our communities,” Michael Rechin, the company’s president and CEO, said in the release.

“The expanded effort will have a significant impact, both internally and externally, and we have the utmost confidence in Scott to lead the way. The success of our clients and communities will always be the true barometer of this company’s performance,” he said.

First Merchants always has been a strong proponent and an industry leader when it comes to corporate social responsibility, Mark Hardwick, the company’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said in the announcement.

“The formalization of a new team will allow us to more strategically dedicate resources to our communities and focus on financial wellness initiatives.”

The parent company of First Merchants Bank announced last month plans to five new branches or loan production offices in low- to moderate-income communities as part of a $1.4 billion community investment plan with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

In addition to a $10 million investment for the locations, the commitment focused on underserved, low- to moderate-income and rural communities will extend through 2025 and will provide:

• $398 million in mortgage lending

• $423 million in small-business lending

• $580 million in community development lending and investment commitments

• $3.4 million in sponsorships, grant, loan and investment opportunities

With a master of business administration degree from Butler University and a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University, McKee has been with First Merchants for the past 13 years, starting there as a commercial banking officer and serving since 2016 as its Muncie region president.

“This is a tremendous opportunity and allows me to combine my banking experience with a long-held passion to better our world,” he said in the announcement.

“I’m confident we will do just that because I’ve seen how much my colleagues share in that passion. They believe in people just as much as I do, and working together, we can and will do great things for our communities.”

In other First Merchants news, the bank announced it would donate to 19 Fort Wayne area nonprofit groups unfavorably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as part of a $1 million commitment made earlier this spring.

Among the organizations receiving the financial support are Bridge of Grace, Community Harvest Food Bank, Matthew 25, Rescue Mission, YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne and YWCA of Northeast Indiana.

Paycheck Protection deadline extended

President Donald Trump signed into law July 4 U.S. Senate Bill 4116, which reauthorized lending under the Paycheck Protection Program through Aug. 8.

Lending through the program had stopped at the end of June, and the Treasury said at that point about 4.8 million PPP loans had supported an estimated 50 million jobs. Applications began being accepted July 6 in response to the Paycheck Protection Program Extension Act.

“Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans and too many businesses feeling economic pain from this pandemic,” the American Banks Association had said in an announcement before the deadline extension.

“After overcoming initial problems at launch, the (Small Business Administration’s) Paycheck Protection Program has provided a critical financial lifeline to small businesses across the country,” it said.

“Working in partnership with the federal government, banks of all sizes stepped up to deliver over $500 billion in PPP loans that helped small-business customers in need, despite challenges from the ongoing pandemic and changing regulatory guidance. The size, scale and speed of the response was unprecedented.”

Veteran reporter Doug LeDuc joined Business Weekly in 2006 and primarily covers banking and finance and technology. You can send information for his weekly column to dleduc@kpcmedia.com or call 260-426-2640, ext. 3309.

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