Matched savings put mom on a path to a college degree--and a home

Mary Callahan studying for her Master's degreeMary Callahan was 42 and living in an apartment in Belmont with her 6-year-old daughter, Miracle. While she liked the apartment, and its proximity to her job, she craved the stability of a permanent home. So when she saw a first-time homebuyer’s program listed in the newspaper, she contacted the Laconia Area Community Land Trust right away.

Her homeownership counselor shared an opportunity with Mary: Had she heard of the Individual Development Account (IDA) matched-savings program? Every $1 she saved toward a home (up to $2,000) could be matched by an additional $3, and she’d also receive financial training that included the dos and don’ts—as well as the how-tos—of budgets, credit cards and debt.

Three years later, Mary had saved more than enough from her $12-an-hour job to qualify for the maximum IDA match. She had a down payment for a home. Her goal was within sight.

Then the economy slumped. Mary’s work hours were cut from 40 to 32. She diligently continued to save, but worried that this was not the right time to buy a home. So she brought her concerns to her adviser at the land trust.

They agreed that getting a degree might result in a better-paying job, which would allow Mary to pursue her other long-term goals, including homeownership.

So Mary went for it, earning an associate’s degree and the President’s Award of Excellence from Lakes Region Community College, then a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College in Manchester. She even earned a promotion at work.

Now Mary is enrolled in a human services masters program. When finished, she will take state licensing exams for both mental health and drug and alcohol counseling.

Her dream of a home? She bought a manufactured home in a Belmont co-op with a $7,500 down payment she saved on her own.

IDAs, Mary says, are “a good opportunity for someone with motivation and drive to move forward.”

“Without the support and guidance I received, I might have become frustrated,” she says. But because she was able to complete the program, she says, “My life has changed a lot! I’m very grateful.”

This article was originally published in the Community Loan Fund's 2012 Annual Report.