Habitat for Humanity financial education empowers local veteran to pursue traditional mortgage

November 07, 2019

It was 11 months ago in December of 2019 when United States Army veteran Mario, his wife Norma and their two children learned that they had qualified to partner with Habitat to build their home. Mario served as a medic in the United States Army for six years, during which he was deployed to Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011. While in Afghanistan, he performed clinical duties at Kandahar Air Field and assisted in training Afghanistan National Army and Police.

“It was exciting, you know?” said Mario. “It was just like a Godsend… (I thought) okay, thank you God, we’re gonna get a house.”

Habitat for Humanity partners with qualified low-income families to build their homes. The program is a hand up, not a hand out. Homes are built through donation of monetary funds, land, building materials, contractor services and volunteer labor. During a family’s partnership with Habitat, they complete 350 hours of sweat equity and home buyer education courses that both mentally and financially prepare them for successful home ownership. Upon completion of construction, families pay a long-term, affordable mortgage to Habitat.

For the first time in Comal County Habitat for Humanity’s history, home ownership education was taught through Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” which features step-by-step methods to money management like saving $1,000 for emergencies, paying off debt, saving 3 to 6 months of total household income and more. As part of Habitat’s Home Program, families are encouraged to bring any children 14 years and older to the home buyer education courses.

“Maddy (our daughter) got a job in the summer and she saved her money,” Norma said. “Half went to savings, half went to her. (She learned that) from the class.”

“I told her (my daughter), ‘look at mom and dad. I don’t want you to be like that,’” said Mario. “We spent $1,300 a month on going out to eat. That was just kind of like an ‘oh crap’ moment for me and Norma. If we’re gonna get a house… we need to stop. That needs to stop.”

During a Financial Peace University session, Mario and Norma realized they had incurred $30,000+ in debt. One of the steps Dave Ramsey teaches during Financial Peace is the “debt snowball” method – the idea is to pay off your smallest amount of debt first and then apply that payment amount in addition to your minimum payment of the next largest debt. As you continue to increase the payment towards each debt, you have the potential to pay off your debt much quicker.

“The class really changed us,” said Norma. “Seeing everything on paper and in writing… going out to eat, spending on all these electronics. Everything was ‘okay, let’s go’ and not really saying ‘you know that extra $300 could’ve gone to paying this bill off completely and we wouldn’t have it (any) more.”

It was through Comal County Habitat’s home buyer education courses that Mario and Norma realized their potential to qualify for a traditional mortgage.

“When we were in the program, we started saving and we knocked everything down like it says there you know, snowball,” Norma said. “Pay one bill off, that money (is) used for the other one and that’s exactly what I did.”

“This class (Financial Peace University) is gold,” Mario said. “Take everything to heart, write it down, record it, whatever you gotta do. Take a picture. This class is gold. That’s the only way we got this house.”

Soon after Mario and Norma’s decision to apply for a traditional mortgage, they withdrew their family from Comal County Habitat for Humanity’s Home Program. Due to their diligence and hard work, Mario and Norma recently moved their family out of Norma’s parent’s home and into their new four bedroom home here in New Braunfels.

“At Comal County Habitat, we want every family to have a safe, decent place to live- whether it’s through our Home Program or otherwise,” said Alan Rubiola, Communications Manager at Comal County Habitat for Humanity. “We are absolutely thrilled that Mario and Norma were able to pursue their dreams of homeownership through a traditional mortgage. This opens up the opportunity for another family in need of affordable housing to qualify for our Home Program and learn the same financial tools that empowered Mario and Norma.”

Comal County Habitat for Humanity is now accepting applications from potential homebuyers in our community. Anyone interested in partnering with Comal County Habitat to build their home can pick up an application at their offices located at 1269 Industrial Drive, New Braunfels, TX 78130 any time between 9 AM and 5 PM Tuesday – Saturday. The deadline to fill out and return a homebuyer application is December 10th.

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