By PHYLLIS FURMAN | NY DAILY NEWS BUSINESS WRITER
She’s blonde, she’s obsessed with improving your financial health and she talks to millions across the country through books, PBS specials, radio and television.
Sound like Suze Orman? Yes, but this fast-rising personal finance preacher speaks a different language: Spanish.
Meet Julie Stav, the host of Univision’s national radio talk show “Tu Dinero con Julie Stav.” It is heard in New York, Mondays through Fridays, at noon on WADO (1280 AM).
When this Hispanic money diva’s not taking questions in her radio studio, she’s doling out financial tips on the set of Univision’s national evening news broadcasts and morning show “Despierta America.”
Stav has appeared on ABC’s “The View,” coaching Barbara Walters and her gang on starting an investment club. And after penning two best-selling money books, she’s about to launch her own Spanish language money magazine, also called “Tu Dinero,” in partnership with Spanish language publishing giant Editorial Televisa.
“Julie is becoming an icon,” said Univision Radio vice president Jorge Plasencia. “She’s a pioneer in this area of helping Hispanics make money.”
A Cuban immigrant, Stav says her goal is to improve the lives of Hispanics by teaching them financial empowerment.
Her audience “came to this country to carve out a better future,” Stav said in an interview, calling in from her office in Calabasas, Calif. “It’s not enough to work hard, you have to work smart. You have the same access to information as Bill Gates.”
Her radio callers run the gamut from housekeepers to janitors to students to small business owners. Some want to know how they can invest in stocks if they don’t have a Social Security number because they are not yet documented.
“They may not have fancy jobs, but they want to invest their money,” said Jaime Mejia, editor in chief of “Tu Dinero” magazine.
Stav’s growing clout ó ratings on the radio show have tripled since its start three years ago and sponsors like State Farm, Chrysler and Office Depot have signed on ó reflects both the rise of Hispanics in this country and their hunger for financial information.
As the Hispanic population has surged, its buying power has jumped to nearly $700 billion and is projected to reach as much as $1 trillion by the end of decade, according to HispanTelligence.
Nonetheless, Latinos still lag far behind in key areas like home ownership, banking, retirement savings and stocks and mutual fund investments. Experts cite a continued distrust of financial institutions because of the troubled banking system in Latin America. Hispanics also send much of the money they earn here to help out family members in their countries of origin.
In the city, more than half of the Hispanic population does not have a checking account, according to a recent survey of Hispanics conducted by Bank of America. Fewer than one-third have a savings account and an astonishing 93% have no retirement plan.
“People come to me and say, ‘I have a little money ó $250,000,’ ” said Stav. “They say, ‘I have it all in my home, and I don’t know what to do with it!’ “
Stav taught herself how to make money and today is a wealthy mogul. Born Julieta Alfonso, she came to this country alone at age 14. Her parents later followed. Because she spoke no English, her high school deemed her mentally retarded.
When she was in her mid 30s, she was a divorced teacher and broke. She read a book on investing and decided to make a career change to financial planner, teaching by day and studying by night.
After organizing local stock seminars, she wrote her own book on investing. PBS asked her to do a special ó Stav insisted that it be in Spanish ó and other media deals followed.
“There was no one else doing this,” Stav said. “There is a tremendous thirst out there for this kind of information.”
Julie Stav is on a mission to educate Hispanics about money. Here are some of her most important pieces of advice:
Stop Being Invisible. “Open a checking account. Stop paying the check cashing place,” she says.
If you don’t have a Social Security number, you can get an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) which will allow you to open a bank account.
Take the money out of the mattress and start investing.
Write a budget. Once you have what you think you need for the next two years, start to think about investing. If you can endure the risks, consider stocks. Mutual funds offer a more conservative approach.
Learn how the credit system works. Get a credit card, but use it judiciously.