Assets for Independence: Profiles of Success

Asset-development initiatives follow a prescribed set of desirable achievements: debt elimination, saving and investment, and homeownership. Programs may share these ideas and strategies with Head Start families.

People who thought they’d never realize the American dream of home and business ownership are making their dreams come true with the help of the Assets for Independence (AFI) Program. Run by the Office of Community Services within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the program teaches people with low-incomes to become self-sufficient by learning how to save money and buy a home, start or grow a business, and continue their education.

Jose Peña was able to put a prison sentence and drug rehabilitation behind him, start a small business, and buy a home with his wife. And Shawn Turnley, went from living in a homeless shelter to becoming a homeowner and landlord, and from a recovering addict to a full-time employee and part-time student.

How Did They Do It?

To achieve their goals of financial independence, AFI program participants save money through a bank account called an Individual Development Account (IDA). For every dollar they save, the program provides a $1 to $8 match of federal and nonfederal contributions. To help them manage their savings and learn to invest in long-term assets such as a home, the program provides financial training and support services, which include the following:

  • financial education on issues such as owning and managing a bank account or credit card;
  • credit counseling and credit repair;
  • help accessing refundable tax credits, including the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child tax credit; and 
  • specialized training on home ownership, starting a business, and attending post-secondary school or training.

When Darcy Densmore wanted to expand her custom cabinetry business without having to take out a loan, she approached the Arkansas Women's Business Development Center, a partner in an AFI project managed by the Southern Good Faith Fund, which serves low-income individuals in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta. Densmore began saving $120 per month in an IDA and took the AFI Program's six-part economic skills training, which includes financial education and asset-specific training. Within a year, Densmore achieved the expansion goals for her business, which continues to thrive.

Tammey Faford also wanted to expand her business, but didn’t know how. After an AFI project on the island of K’aui taught her how to write a business plan, budget, avoid debt, and set savings goals, Faford was able to use her IDA savings to buy a van and expand her floral business. As the only florist within 20 miles, Faford now has cornered the wedding market in her area.

Who Can Participate?

The AFI Program generally serves the following:

  • individuals eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) 
  • those eligible for the federal EITC
  • those with incomes less than two times the federal poverty level (about $40,000 for a family of four in 2007)

Participants may have no more than $10,000 in net asset wealth--not including a home and one car--when they enroll in the program.

Home Sweet Home

Tired of living in public housing, Donna Leisinger put the IDA to work for her in buying a home when she learned her savings would be matched four to one. The program’s homebuyer training taught her how to choose among different kinds of financing. Leisinger’s monthly total for her mortgage, interest, taxes, and insurance turned out to be less than her previous rent in public housing.

Also eager to buy a home when his family began to outgrow their apartment, David Kuegah-Toyo hooked up with an AFI project in Louisville, Kentucky that offered participants a structured savings program with matching dollars. Three years later, Kuegah-Toyo and his wife bought a home and continue to save for post-secondary education for themselves and their children. 

Want to learn more? You can contact the Asset for Independence grantee in your community:

Related Articles

Individual Development Accounts Study Yields Positive Results
Assets for Independence: Apply for Funding
Add It Up For Families: To Help Lower-Income Families Become Financially Self-Sufficient
Financial Education Offers a Path to First-Time Homeownership: Success Stories and Teaching Tips

Related Websites

Office of Family Assistance
Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Family Assistance has more information about the TANF program.

U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission -
This commission’s goal is to teach Americans the basics of financial education.

Assets for Independence: Profiles of Success. HHS/ACF/OCS. 2009. English.

Last Reviewed: July 2010

Last Updated: November 13, 2014