In a Nutshell: GreenPath was born as a budgeting and financial education service out of the Michigan Credit Union League in 1961. A decade later, it was already expanding into other states, and today, it has offices in 18 states, at 60 different locations, with more than 450 employees. Although founded to help people through financial crises, the nonprofit has expanded its focus to help people achieve their financial goals. Its team of experts in various areas of finance, including housing, student loans, and credit cards, counsels people in person or by phone. In 2015, GreenPath helped 45,000 people repay $300 million in credit card debt, and in so doing, it’s partnered with major financial institutions, including more than 400 different credit unions.
In the early 1960s, employees at credit unions noticed that people were struggling with their accounts. The Michigan Credit Union League took note, forming a consumer credit counseling service that later became known as GreenPath. In the 1970s, it began expanding its services to other states. GreenPath was one of the country’s first agencies that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development approved for financial counseling services, and in 2005, the US Department of Justice also approved it for bankruptcy counseling and education services.
We recently spoke with Stephanie Somerville, Marketing Manager for GreenPath, who told us, “Traditionally, we’ve been helping the consumer in the crisis mode, and we want to be a guide for people’s entire financial life cycle.” That means helping people “increase their cash flow, achieve financial resilience, and achieve their dreams,” she added.
The nonprofit’s oldest and most popular service is the debt management plan program. GreenPath makes debt more manageable for its clients by negotiating to reduce their monthly payments and interest rates, Stephanie said, “so you can afford both living expenses and the monthly payments to creditors.”
Other services include free debt and consumer credit counseling; housing counseling, on issues such as buying a home, preventing foreclosure, and reverse mortgages; student loan counseling; and credit report reviews, where a counselor will review both your credit score and rating and make suggestions for how to improve them.
GreenPath’s myriad services empower clients to regain control of their finances so they can refocus on achieving their goals through customized budgets and debt management plans. What’s more, the organization’s certified professionals help ease the client’s’ stress by working directly with creditors while providing clients one-on-one education and counseling.
A Comprehensive Financial Wellness and Credit Counseling Nonprofit Organization
GreenPath’s headquarters are in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The nonprofit also has offices where counselors provide one-on-one advice at 60 locations in 18 states. In total, the organization has more than 450 employees. Most of the counseling, which is obligatory for people in the debt management program, takes place in person or over the phone. They also have an online chat option for bankruptcy education.
While some of the nonprofit’s program carry a minimal fee, many of GreenPath’s services are free. A basic student loan review, with the development of a customized repayment plan, costs $50, and a more tailored service that involves addressing delinquent and defaulted loans and contacting loan services, costs $150.
The cost of other services may vary by state because GreenPath has partnered with more than 400 credit unions and other major financial institutions nationwide. “Sometimes the credit union covers the cost for the debt management program if the credit union is already in program,” Stephanie said. Otherwise, the one-time setup fee can be as much as (but not more than) $75, with a monthly fee of between $25-$75, depending on the state you live in. However, most clients still experience a significant savings even with the debt management fees included.
Clients seem to be overwhelmingly pleased with the services they’re getting from GreenPath. In 2015, the nonprofit helped repay $300 million on behalf of 45,000 clients in their debt management program. GreenPath’s website is peppered with client testimonials, like this one: “GreenPath has given me peace of mind. They were able to open the door for me in getting out of debt in five years, versus 25 or 30 years.”
Another person said, “GreenPath organized our finances, and we actually had more cash in hand each month after paying our bills.”
Clients can also take advantage of the numerous educational resources on GreenPath’s website. These include a monthly newsletter with financial tips. GreenPath University also has a plethora of financial games, webinars, e-learning tools, and videos.
Embracing Diversity Helps Ensure Client Success
In addition to being fully committed to helping people redress their debt, GreenPath has a strong internal culture that is focused on creating and promoting diversity in its workforce.
“Diversity is a really big part of our culture,” Stephanie said.
GreenPath has an internal diversity committee that meets monthly and organizes different awareness days. For example, in February, for Black History Month, each day is dedicated to providing information on past and present African-American leaders.
“The HR team is really immersed in making sure we hire a diverse workforce,” Stephanie said, adding that they are mindful of any hiring bias.
GreenPath counselors are helping people from many walks of life across the country, so it makes sense that the organization’s staff would also prioritize diversity. According to the GreenPath website, “We find that it [diversity] helps to increase our adaptability, fully understand and support our clients, provides for a variety of viewpoints, and improves the workplace culture for all employees.”
Remixing the American Dream & Prioritizing Clients’ Needs
With such an internal focus on diversity, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of GreenPath’s long-term goals is to “remix the American dream so it works for everyone,” Stephanie said. GreenPath wants to reach that goal, which Stephanie told us has been dubbed the “big, hairy, audacious goal,” by 2027.
“We know we can’t do it alone,” she added. “We’re a small but mighty organization, and we believe through networked communities and strong strategic partnerships, we will achieve our BHAG.”
In addition to partnering with banks and credit unions, GreenPath partners with schools and employers throughout the country. Its representatives give presentations at high schools and colleges and provide financial health check-ups to employees at various organizations — a much-valued service. According to the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 71% of employees say their top source of stress is personal finance.
A focus for the future will also be on making sure the client is at the center of what GreenPath does, Stephanie said.
“Historically, we were strong on compliance and quality, but when we rebranded into financial wellness, we put the user at the center,” she said.
To that end, the nonprofit is also focusing on a human-centered design methodology, which prioritizes clients’ needs in all of GreenPath’s services.
Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.