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  • Karen Washington

Credit . . .so much more than a score

My first 3 years of working in the banking industry were at one of those well-known big banks of course. I began to see a dramatic difference with customers’ experiences during the loan application and approval process. I couldn't understand why I would promote products and services, but there was a certain demographic of people that were having a harder time getting approved.

I killed the referral numbers, because people trusted me. I would share my "I'm not only an employee, but I'm also a customer too" story. However, my approved/closed referral rate was lower than anyone else's. Being a natural competitor, I wanted to win, so I needed to figure out what was going wrong, and how I could fix it.

I started to think the loan officers were being "extra selective." So, I began to look at the credit reports of customers who were approved, versus one's that were not and noticed a huge difference! First was the length of the credit history (or lack thereof), unpaid or collection items, medical bills, and charged off accounts. While the files that were approved didn't show any of the remarks listed.

At that point, I said to myself, "if we can just teach the customers how bad habits impact their credit, they'll fix it, come back to us, and I can get them approved!" This became my mission.

From there I began to learn what underwriters look for and would often review credit reports on the teller line to test my knowledge. Next, I decided to share my newfound gems as an introduction and education tool for our new customers.

The education piece was now my passion. I didn't care about the fancy mug that was promised from winning the "most credit cards sold" contest. I wanted a quality referral! Which meant a long-time customer, and a relationship.

My passion is to help people understand credit without being embarrassed. People don't know what they don't know. I wanted to change that and have carried this same passion with me throughout my career in the financial industry over the last 23 years.

Speaking positive gems to young people, I became a financial mentor for a young lady that started working her first job at 14. When she and her mother came into the credit union, her mother asked her, "what are you buying with your first check when you go to the mall?" Before the young lady answered, I asked her, "before you answer your mother, how much are you putting into your savings?" Her eyes grew big; then she replied, "put everything in there except for $100. I don't want to go shopping anymore. I want a new car when I turn 16!"

Her mother said, "WHAT?! You don't want to go shopping?" The young lady replied, "I already have enough clothes and shoes...but I don't have a car. Ms. Karen, if I save my money, will you help me buy my first car by myself?" I quickly replied, "I sure will!"

7 years later, this young lady has outstanding credit, is on her second vehicle purchase, and is the one in her family that everyone (including her parents) calls for financial advice.

Young people aren't the only ones that need positive guidance. I had the pleasure of being a bookkeeper for a gentleman that was self-employed and was too busy in the field to take care of the books. I came into his office, fixed his paperwork, and began finding opportunities where he could make adjustments to save money and pay off his loans for his equipment. Today, he still owns his business and is debt free.

I also coached a mother to break some pretty bad spending habits. By making all of her money less accessible on her debit card, I was able to help her save. I encouraged her children to help be responsible as well by choosing to help mommy cook versus stopping at a drive-through after school. I told the kids they were my little accountants, and we had to take this seriously if they wanted their own rooms. The children would be eager to tell me how they told mommy not to buy something during the week and how she would listen and put the card away.

To see all of their faces brought me (as well as them) so much joy! Her children were learning financial discipline without even knowing it. The mother’s score increased, and with a nice nest egg, she was able to purchase her first home with more money saved than required at closing.

I also had the pleasure of working with a young man who was released from prison and needed to establish credit but didn't know how. I walked him through the process of contacting his creditors and making arrangements or disputing items, whichever was appropriate. Based on his income, we were able to get him approved for a credit card. I then coached him on how to use it and when to pay it off.

This gentleman was able to increase his score, have the derogatory remarks removed, move into a better apartment, and purchase a reliable vehicle from a reputable dealership. A short while after, he used his new credit to purchase equipment and started his own carpentry business. Not only did he gain credit confidence, but he also regained his independence.

Credit is so much more than a score. It's financial flexibility which can change the lives for not only ourselves but our loved ones whom we support. Let's educate and support our community in reaching their financial goals! I'm committed, and I hope you are too!

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