Kristen Hartnett is a financial counsellor with the Salvation Army’s Moneycare team in Newcastle. With the end of the financial year upon us, she has some good advice about handling finances.
How did you get involved with The Salvation Army and this field?
My connection with the Salvos was from birth. I was born in a Salvation Army hospital in Newcastle although my family was not Salvo, so perhaps it was destiny.
I completed a Bachelor of Commerce at Newcastle University and became passionate about financial counselling when returning to work after having children. I immediately felt I had found ‘home’.
What is the purpose of Moneycare?
Moneycare exists to connect with, and provide a free service for, people so they can get on top of their finances. A financial freedom comes for people when they know their rights, understand their behaviours and are given tools to change their habits.
What kind of issues do you advise people on?
The most frequent issue is credit cards—one client had 20 of them. Other issues we see are mortgages issues, personal loans, payday loans, car loans, consumer leases and large utility bills (electricity and phone).
We share information with people around what they can do in this situation and also what can happen if they take no action. We ensure that lending practices by institutions are in line with current legislation. People may be interested in options around bankruptcy and we want them to make informed decisions.
What do people need to be aware of at tax time?
At the end of the financial year we let people know about the Tax Help program, a free service for eligible taxpayers with an income of less than $60,000.
We may procrastinate in getting around to doing our tax return. Like many projects, we recommend that you break it down into bite-sized pieces and do a little at a time. Make an appointment in your diary to get this started.
You may use this as a time to do some research about the area in your finance that is the most overwhelming. A great start is to visit moneysmart.gov.au.
How young should we start to teach financial awareness?
Current research suggests that we should be starting that as early as two years of age. For me, this would be around the values and concepts of money. Delaying gratification, being patient, learning to live with ‘no’ and teaching values about the important things in life. Of course, this is much easier to do when your tummy is full and you have somewhere to sleep at night and are not experiencing family violence and other issues.
You could be working in a big corporate environment, so why do you choose to work in Moneycare?
The mission and values of The Salvation Army resonate with my personal beliefs and values—this makes my role a privilege to be part of the movement. I’m grateful for work that puts people first.
At all times, I could never do this alone. Everything we produce is a partnership with many links in the chain, like local business, supportive work environment, great work colleagues, and people with expertise who share it generously and freely with us.
What differences have you seen Moneycare make to clients?
I’ve seen Moneycare save lives, restore marriages and improve physical and emotional health. Walking with someone through their financial struggles is powerful. A debt situation can make people may feel frozen or overwhelmed. Knowledge, advocacy and support, underpinned by our guidelines of “non-judgment, unconditional positive regard, and not doing for people what they can do for themselves” are healing.
Personally, I grow stronger in my belief on a daily basis that Salvos and the other churches need to be in this space. Money and finance cause stress for many Aussies and we don’t want this stopping them from leading full and abundant lives.
I think of predatory lenders and remember The Salvation Army founder William Booth’s quote after being apprenticed to a pawnbroker: “My hatred of the trade, the use and abuse of it, continued my association with the poorest and lowest.”
Away from the work world, what is life like for you?
Outside of work, my family is the most precious thing to me. I love being a part of my now grown-up children’s lives including watching their sports, and I also enjoy a coffee and walk around Newcastle beaches with our energetic dog. I’m also really happy when I find a show on Netflix I can ‘binge’on!