“We focus on the building blocks of a good life — earnings, education and essentials,” said Jennifer Raggio, United Way of Acadiana director of marketing and communications. “We want to break the cycle for unbanked or underbanked families to really create a lasting solution to gain financial freedom.”

The new initiative, called Bank On and launched this week, is a national program that has already taken hold in Shreveport and Baton Rouge.

The program will open up the possibility of checking or savings accounts to people who may not be able to meet minimum balance requirements or other qualifications at mainstream banks.

“We want to reach at least 10 percent of the unbanked population, and that would be about 368 new accounts in a year’s time,” said Jason Huffman, director of organizational and impact strategies at United Way of Acadiana. “Our broader goal is to bring financial stability to individuals and families across Acadiana, which means providing readily available access to banking products.”

The initiative is to aid what Raggio called unbanked families, or families with no checking or savings accounts living paycheck to paycheck, and underbanked families, who continue to rely on payday loans and cash advances.

Raggio said Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation in predatory loans.

“We are trying to teach families to get into the financial mainstream — how to save, how to enjoy the luxuries of traditional banking services — so that ultimately everyone in the community can benefit,” Raggio said.

Individuals interested in seeking help can visit United Way of Acadiana’s website or call (337) 232-HELP.

Another program offered is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which provides free assistance to people who qualify in preparing their own tax returns. The assistance is available to families making $53,000 or less, people with disabilities, the elderly and taxpayers with limited English-speaking abilities.

Several locations, including Acadiana High School and SMILE Community Action Agency, will host VITA.

More than $30 million in tax income credits in Louisiana go unclaimed, and Raggio said half of the battle is educating people as to whether they qualify for the credits.

“We helped a gentleman receive $5,600 last year in tax credits (with VITA), which helped clear the mold from his home that was affecting his children’s health,” she said.