Saving Grace

A new savings match program helps homeowners build emergency funds and develop good savings habits.
Mar 14, 2022 9:00 AM ET

By Candace Higginbotham

Buying a home is an important milestone, but the financial commitment doesn’t end with the mortgage payment.

Anyone who owns a home is well aware that even new houses require some degree of repair and maintenance – and those needs tend to pop up when least expected.

Making sure homeowners have essential emergency funds was the motivation behind Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s Habi$ave savings match program.

And the pandemic was the motivation for the timing.

During 2021, COVID-19 restrictions prevented Atlanta Habitat from building homes at their usual pace and volume. So, they decided to shift their focus to another identified need: helping homeowners establish and increase their savings while learning to make saved money grow.

And because the program is so compatible with Regions’ community engagement strategy, the bank was an eager supporter.

“Atlanta Habitat clients have taken the first big step to building wealth, by buying a home,” said Cecilia Bailey, financial education manager at Regions. “The way the Habitat for Humanity program is structured really sets up homeowners for success. With brand new homes in thriving communities that are seeing rapidly increasing home values, these homeowners are paying little or no interest and it’s a unique opportunity to build equity and begin building a long-term plan for financial stability.”

In this new program, which launched in mid-2021, qualified Atlanta Habitat homebuyers could potentially earn up to $500 provided by Regions Bank, in a dollar-for-dollar match. The participants were required to attend financial literacy classes offered by Atlanta Habitat and Regions, and their savings activities were monitored.

Of the 18 families that indicated initial interest in the program, 10 completed all the Habi$ave requirements. All 10 earned the full $500 match, with one homeowner winning an incremental double savings match to earn a total of $625.

The Atlanta Habitat staff views this result as a resounding success, especially since it’s the first program of its kind.

“Habi$ave allowed our modest-income homebuyers to save more than they thought possible with the education and support provided by Regions Bank and Atlanta Habitat,” said Rosalyn Merrick, interim CEO and president of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity. “The matching funds served as motivation to change their financial routines and decisions for the better. Savings are critical for successful homeownership, and we are grateful for the financial and volunteer support of Regions Bank.”

Participants’ feedback confirmed it was a successful debut.

One homeowner said, “My overall experience with the program was amazing. I learned a great deal about savings, emergency funds, the importance of savings, and savings just for goals. I have two accounts now, one for emergencies and one for goals. Habi$ave held me accountable, knowing I couldn’t touch the money.”

The participants also appreciated the camaraderie with fellow homeowners, which was an unexpected benefit of the program.

“I appreciated the check-ins, and I enjoyed the Habi$ave Savings Club meetings with peers,” the homeowner said. “We would have five or 10 minutes before or after the meeting to talk and catch up and it gave some added accountability. The program was great.”

This positive feedback was consistent in the surveys completed by participants, and Atlanta Habitat is using that input to plan the second program later this year.

And the good news is spreading.

Additional Habit for Humanity organizations in other cities have expressed interest in launching HabiSave programs in their areas.

That’s good news for homeowners and good news for Regions Bank.

“The Habi$ave program fits so well in Regions Bank’s community engagement strategy to foster financial wellness,” Bailey said. “By providing financial education and the added financial incentive, we’re enabling good savings practices that will improve lives throughout our communities.”