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4 Steps to Overcoming Financial Obstacles for Ex-Offenders

Are you someone who has some regrets on their record? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), “the American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails.”1 That’s not all — every year, more than 600,000 people enter prison. However, that’s nothing compared to the approximately 11 million times people go to jail annually.1 A study conducted by the PPI found that $10,000 is the median amount of bail people are faced with, which is eight months worth of income for the average detainee.1

If you’re an ex-offender, you may be struggling to get your finances back in order now that you’re no longer behind bars. There’s no doubt that readjusting to civilian life is difficult, especially when you have debts to owe and legal charges to sort through. Below, we’ve rounded up four steps to overcoming financial obstacles as an ex-offender.

Step #1: Prioritize your debts.

In order to regain control over your life, you must stay organized and aware of everything you owe. From legal fees to child support, you want to ensure as much debt is paid off — as quickly as possible. If you’re unsure of which expense to pay off first, pay attention to any fines you could incur if your payments are late. Leaving prison and entering the real world can be extremely overwhelming; don’t make matters worse by complicating an already complex situation. 

If you’re someone who’s not very good at prioritizing, consider reaching out to friends and family members and seeing if they can help. Chances are, they’re just as eager as you to move past this difficult time. When in doubt, consider creating an Excel sheet with all of your expenses listed and ordered according to their importance. Having a visual will help you stay on track with your repayments so you don’t fall behind. If you have consumer debt, research your state’s statue of limitations for collection law. Some states will not sue you for repayment, which will help take the edge off while you work through paying off your other debts.

Step #2: Sign up for reentry programs.

According to the White House, “Reentry programs are designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released.”2 If you recently left prison, a reentry program can not only help you find a job, but it can also help you navigate any debt and financial obstacles on your plate. Additionally, they can recommend credit counseling agencies and places you can get child support assistance. 

Financial literacy is often a key mission of these programs, enabling you to gain lifelong knowledge while working through your debts. The purpose of these programs is to break the cycle of drug use and crime, in turn enhancing both the health and safety of our communities.2 With these initiatives, ex-offenders can look forward to the future, instead of dreading what the next chapter may bring.

Step #3: Apply for new opportunities.

While it may be intimidating to apply for jobs, it’s important to put yourself out there and regain a stable income source after your incarceration. To get a head start, look into your local workforce development program and sign up for Goodwill’s training services. You can even find job boards online that are specifically catered towards ex-offenders. If you already have a network, consider reaching out to those people first to see if they know of any available opportunities. 

Somebody who personally knows you will most likely be more willing to look past your criminal record than someone who’s simply judging you off your resume (and record). Any kind of recovery meetings and community meet-ups can also help you make new connections that could lead to a potential job offer later on down the line. Never underestimate the power of simply socializing with others; even if they themselves can’t hire you, they could very easily know someone who could. And once you land a job, you’ll be that much closer to repaying your debts.

Step #4: Maximize public services.

From food stamps to state-sponsored health care, there are a variety of benefits you can take advantage of depending on your demographics. When you’re an ex-offender, you need to be able to swallow your pride and accept help when you need it. Especially when it comes to finances, the sooner you take care of any outstanding debts and issues — the better. Public services can help you stick to a budget so you can live a comfortable lifestyle past incarceration. 

These programs are offered for people just like you who are in similar situations; there is never any reason to feel embarrassed. If you’re unsure of what benefits are offered in your state, conduct some research and survey any ex-offenders you know to learn more about the opportunities that are available to you. While it may not feel good at first, as you make progress and gradually reduce outstanding obligations, you’ll be glad you took advantage of the services available to you.



This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Twenty Over Ten. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.

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