Financial Fitness Tips: What affects your credit score?

Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp and ConnectUp team up to create financial fitness tips like these to send out through our Resource Wire

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Your credit score is important! Keeping it high will allow you to take out loans in the future. Financial Fitness Boot Camp explains why the following actions are SAFE or HARMFUL to your credit score.

Checking my credit report: SAFE!

Checking your own credit report will not hurt your credit rating because that is considered a “soft” inquiry. Plus, you are entitled to check your own credit report under federal law. (A “hard” inquiry in your credit file is a record of any application for credit that you made.)

Getting married to someone with bad credit: SAFE!

Your credit score or credit rating will not suffer simply because you get married to someone with bad credit. By maintaining separate credit accounts for things like credit cards and car loans, a spouse with good credit can keep his or her credit rating from being impacted by the other spouse with a poor credit history. But, if you take on joint financial obligations, such as a mortgage, and the bill doesn’t get paid for any reason (including divorce), then that will impact both parties’ credit scores.

Renting a car with a debit card: HARMFUL! 

Believe it or not, renting a car with a debit card can hurt your credit. Why? Doing so can trigger a “hard” inquiry. In the fine print of many auto rental agreements is a provision giving the car company the right to pull your credit report if you pay with a debit card. Who knew?!

Paying in full a high credit card balance: SAFE!

Paying off a high credit card balance will not hurt your credit score. On the contrary, it should boost your credit score. According to FICO, 30% of your FICO credit score is based on the amount of credit card debt you have outstanding. Lowering your credit card debt generally increases your credit score.

Opening a new store credit card to get a discount: HARMFUL!

Opening a new retail store credit card can lower your credit score, mainly because the application will generate a “hard” inquiry on your credit report. So the next time you’re out shopping and a nice lady behind the counter tries to sign you up for a store credit card so you get a discount on your purchase, just politely say, “No thanks.”

Disputing a credit card bill with the credit bureaus: SAFE!

Simply disputing a credit card bill should not have any impact on your credit score. However, you should be aware that when a dispute is under review, that credit account is effectively “removed” from consideration in the credit-scoring process.


We invite you all to call the Financial Fitness Boot Camp at either 206.694.6739 or 206.694.6776 and make an appointment to see one of Solid Ground’s financial counselors. They can pull your credit report for free, teach you how to develop a budget/spending plan, show you how to read your credit report, and explain what to do if you need to dispute an item on your report. They would be happy to assist you with whatever you want to focus on to help you reach your financial fitness goals! Don’t delay, call today!

Financial Fitness Boot Camp helps people weigh options

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach Judy Poston

A few weeks ago, a gentleman called Financial Fitness Boot Camp (FFBC) asking questions about budgeting, as well as how to pay off a huge credit card debt and a student loan. He is living in a transitional men’s shelter until April 2016, paying $465 a month for rent. He stated that he wants to move out of the shelter and live in his truck, and use the rent money to pay down his credit card debt. We asked him to come in so we could do a budget and look at the expenses he might encounter living in his truck.

After doing some research we found it would cost more to live in his truck. In addition, living in his truck could lead to the development of chronic health issues; imagine trying to sleep in a small truck with a height of 6’5”? He would use more gas as he moved from street to street. He might receive parking tickets which could lead to being towed. He would have to eat most meals out as he would have no food storage or way to cook food, and in addition, have no access to a bathroom, laundry or electricity. In order to stay warm in a truck that has no insulation, he would have to buy blankets and warm clothes. And lastly, he would have to make the costly move to put most of his possessions in storage.

When he came in for our meeting, he was very pessimistic. He was feeling hopeless and stated he was having a hard time holding on emotionally. Our Financial Fitness Coach Judy Poston showed him how his monthly expenses could easily more than double by moving into his truck. After we covered this information, he felt better able to weigh the pros and cons of living in his truck and make an informed decision. He said because we put the information in writing, his options were more was clear. Before he left, he decided that he would stay in the shelter, save money and explore new employment opportunities.

For more information about how FFBC can help you and members of your community, please contact Judy (financialfitness@solid-ground.org | 206.694.6776).

(Editor’s note: Thanks to Judy and DukeEngage summer intern Motin Yueng for contributing this article, which originally appeared in Solid Ground’s FYI.)

DukeEngage: The Mountain Movers

Duke engage photo

Left to right: Motin Yeung, Kyle Harvey, Kristen Bailey, Annie Apple

DukeEngage is a Duke University undergraduate program that provides an immersive service experience in either a domestic or international location. Funded by the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, over 3,000 Duke students have served 600 community organizations, in 78 nations, on six continents. The expressed mission of DukeEngage is to educate students through civic engagement and encourage them to share those learned values with the university community.

The 2015 DukeEngage Seattle group came up with our own mission statement: to service the Seattle community through authentic partnerships and meaningful reflection. During the next two months, 15 students will work at 11 placements around the city, aspiring to develop an understanding for nonprofit service work .

For the past several  years, Solid Ground has had a strong relationship with the DukeEngage program and will host the following four students working in various positions this summer:

  • Kyle Harvey’s experience as an editor and writer for the university paper made him a good fit for working with the Communications team at Solid Ground. He will write and edit blog posts, help manage the social media accounts, and potentially create and edit videos.
  • Motin Yeung will work with the Financial Fitness Boot Camp to develop curricula and tools to help low-income households increase financial stability. At school, he concentrates in Markets and Management studies and has a deep appreciation for how financial wellness contributes to stable living.
  • Annie Apple will work with Lettuce Link, splitting her time between helping on the two farm sites, working at the food bank, and performing administrative tasks. Her ongoing interest in public health, social justice, and youth empowerment inspired her to take on this unique combination of work.
  • Kristen Bailey also works with Lettuce Link at Marra Farm. Her work helping to harvest the Farm diverges from her past experiences in Chicago. However as an EMT, Kristen’s seen firsthand how food accessibility creates health disparities between communities.

We named our DukeEngage group the Mountain Movers, as testimony to the substantial challenges Solid Ground and other nonprofits take on, and their ability to incrementally make a large difference.

Big Picture News: Financial empowerment for all

Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Spring 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston

At Solid Ground, financial empowerment is integral to our mission to end poverty. Financial justice starts with helping people understand their personal finances, build resilience and achieve financial stability. On a policy level, we work to break down systemic barriers that keep people poor.

Our Financial Fitness Boot Camp (highlighted in the lead story of this newsletter) provides an important model for this work – but it is just the jumping off point for a much larger movement. In integrating financial empowerment across the Solid Ground community, we focus on people’s strengths to provide tailored support and access to resources so that everyone – including our staff and volunteers – can realize their financial stability goals and access opportunities to thrive.

We believe that…

  • Financial empowerment will help our community shift from generations of poverty to generations of financial stability.
  • Through education, people have the power to achieve financial stability.
  • Understanding personal finances develops individual power and furthers economic justice.
  • People are capable and resourceful in creating pathways to financial independence; with the right tools, they can make informed decisions.
  • Financial empowerment brings awareness of one’s own capabilities and strengths.
  • We can help alleviate fear of banking systems through financial empowerment.
  • We are cheerleaders for our clients’ pathways to financial independence.
  • All Solid Ground programs can instill the importance of building and saving assets.
  • Through financial empowerment, we can help people believe in their ability to become financially independent.

In line with these beliefs, our financial empowerment services focus on…

  • Basic Budgeting & Money Management: Creating savings and spending plans, prioritizing debts/expenses, and creatively thinking outside the box about how to manage money.
  • Understanding Credit: Developing a better understanding of the meaning of credit scores and awareness about what people can do to improve their credit.
  • Asset Building (income creation): Celebrating assets and asset-building accomplishments, and identifying ways to build assets and income-boosting supports such as tax credits and public benefits.

Some ways we’re weaving financial empowerment agencywide…

We discuss budgeting basics to help people maintain affordable housing. We connect people with job/training opportunities and resources. We provide nutrition and food budgeting education – focused on the affordability of healthy eating – and support people to grow their own food. And we work with banks to create opportunities for people to develop savings.

On a systems level, we support income equality and raising the minimum wage. We also advocate statewide for issues such as increased debt settlement regulation and consumer protections on payday loans. Combined, these efforts are creating systemic change to build a financially healthier community and economic justice for all.

This post taken from the Big Picture News insert from Solid Ground’s May 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Spring 2015 Groundviews: Standing up for my financial freedom

Below is the lead story of our Spring 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter online, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (Photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

Jonah West is a Financial Fitness Boot Camp program participant (photo by Liz Reed Hawk)

A year ago, Jonah West found himself as close to rock bottom as it gets: homeless, jobless, and carrying the crushing burden of student loan debt with no degree to show for it. Despairing, he thought, “I don’t know where to begin; I don’t know what to do.” But in the midst of his hopelessness, he realized, “There was nobody else to really advocate for you but yourself. You can either sit here and cry about it or you can do something about it.”

Jonah chose option two and has been proactive in improving his life ever since. He found shelter and got on food stamps immediately, and soon entered the FareStart job training program, which he explains “uses cooking as the mechanism to teach you employment skills, life skills.” Through FareStart, he connected with Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coach, Judy Poston, when she held a workshop there on the basics of budgeting, savings and credit repair.

He says, “I got really excited about it, because my financial past has been quite wrecked. I learned to ignore it, because I figured I wasn’t going to be able to go any further with my life. And so hearing her presentation opened my eyes that there was hope, and gave me hope to fix the damage that I’ve done, which I thought was unfixable.”

Working with Judy in one-to-one coaching sessions, he now sees a new future. After coming to terms with the state of his credit rating – “the size and the amount” of his debt – he says, “Judy’s made it a reality to bring it down, and get it fixed, and just work slowly, piece by piece. It might not be as quick as I want it. But now that I have seen it, and I’m not ignoring it, I’m making it a priority in my life to fix it.”

He says, “There was not just the student debt, but a bunch of little things too. So we divided those two parts in half, chunking away at the little things first, but then slowly but surely, working on the student loan part. She’s made it so that I am present with what I’m doing. I’m making decisions appropriately with my finances; I’m not just throwing my money away anymore. Judy’s drawn out a map of how to repair the damage that I’ve done. She can’t make me do it, but she’s given me the opportunity to do it.”

Judy also connected Jonah with Solid Ground Board member John Babauta at HomeStreet Bank, enabling him to open a bank account again after several years without one. “They’ve provided me the support I needed to protect me from me – like no over-drafting allowed. I can’t dip into my savings; I literally have to go over to the branch and have a reason to go into my savings account, which is really great. Now I have a solid foundation of where to keep and how to protect my money.

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (Photo by Greta Carlson)

Jonah West, taking control of his finances & life goals (photo by Greta Carlson)

“At this point, I’m just trying to figure out a way to pay down the debt enough so I can fix my credit, get back into college, get the career that I want, and be able to pay it off completely. I want to be more than a waiter; I don’t want to be a lifer in the restaurant industry. I want more out of life. I want to get my CPA license and improve my credit score within five years. That’s what Solid Ground’s helped me out with. Because before, I had no idea what to do, nowhere to go; I didn’t know how to do anything. And now I have hope.”

Judy says that not all of her clients are as proactive as Jonah, a quality he says he inherited from his mother: “She doesn’t back down. She’s very persistent, and she stands up for herself when the moment calls for it. So I stand up for myself when the moment calls for it – and right now, that’s standing up for my financial freedom.”

He adds, “I’m very hopeful that in the next five years, there will be no resemblance of where I’m at today. I’m going to be in a much better place, and I just gotta be patient. And with the right support, it’s great to know that I’m not going to be a waiter when I’m 40. It took me from 20 to 30 to mess it all up, 31 to 40 to fix it, and from 40 on, have a good life. My future’s brighter; I’m very happy for that.”

Visit Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp webpage for more info on the program.

#FinancialEmpowerment: Celebrating Financial Capability Month

This post was contributed by Kira Zylstra, Solid Ground’s Stabilization Services Director.

Solid Ground participated in CFED's (Corporation for Enterprise Development) Financial Capability Month.

Throughout the month of April, Solid Ground participated in the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Financial Capability Month.

When Solid Ground’s April 7 blog post, Community Conversations, challenged me to #thinkpoverty and #talkpoverty in order to #endpoverty, I took this as a challenge to #thinkopportunity and #talkequity as well. Today, April 30, marks the last day of National Financial Capability Month.

In order to work towards achieving equity and opportunity for all, Solid Ground has set the goal of adopting the principles of financial empowerment across all of our programs and services. We recognize that Financial Literacy and Asset Building are critical components to our mission of ending poverty.

To celebrate Financial Capability Month, here are a few highlights of Financial Empowerment activities at Solid Ground from the month of April:

  • The Financial Fitness Boot Camp team hosted creative discussions with staff to recognize and celebrate the many ways we all incorporate financial literacy into our work.
  • Connected many community members to United Way Tax Preparation sites
  • Held several community workshops focused on nutrition and tenant’s rights which all included education on the importance of budgets and money management.

Solid Ground has had the opportunity to work closely with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), which has been sharing weekly updates, resources, and tools on Financial Empowerment to celebrate Financial Capability Month. Check out their latest here: Integrating Financial Capability.

We want to hear from you! Where do you see #FinancialEmpowerment in action in our community? Comment below or via Solid Ground’s Facebook and Twitter feeds!

Integrating financial empowerment

Dollar bills with whistleWe are thrilled to announce that the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) – with funding from Bank of America Charitable Foundation – has invited Solid Ground to participate in a new financial empowerment Intensive Learning Cluster! The 18-month program launched in January 2014 in Washington D.C. Judy Poston, the current project coordinator and Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coordinator, and Joy Scott, Supportive Services Manager, attended.

Last March, Solid Ground completed a six-month Intensive Learning Cluster with CFED. The original goal of the first Learning Cluster was the implementation of a financial empowerment plan.

However, the project leadership team – including Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director and project point person at the time, and Judy Poston – soon realized that one standard model would not apply across the entire range of programs and services offered by Solid Ground.

The Learning Cluster became an opportunity to develop a model of financial empowerment that can be integrated into all aspects of our work. “We held focus groups,” Kira explains, “assessed where we were at, what staff was interested in, what they were doing, and what they wanted to do more of; we needed to know how we wanted to move forward. It’s always challenging to bring a service to scale at that level – to bring it across the organization – when that can mean so many things for the different programs with different services and needs.”

Kira and Judy were able to create a framework that included four key opportunity areas and action steps. These areas will be the focus of the new Learning Cluster this year.

The first area focuses on enhancing staff skills to build knowledge of and confidence in personal finances so all staff – from administrative to frontline – can better serve the community. A toolkit of resources and a refined referral system of financial services will act as guidelines for the integration of the financial empowerment plan. The final area will focus on program metrics to track progress and assess the needs of the community.

Kira explains that it is important for Solid Ground to incorporate financial empowerment because “it does carry throughout the work that we do to truly overcome poverty. Within the communities that we serve through our programs at Solid Ground, and even the different programs offering different services, there’s always the component of stability, independence, and financial security.

“We want to help folks work with the resources they have and build upon family strengths. We want to meet basic needs, but beyond that we want to talk about income and asset development – so they’re not only making ends meet, but feel confident and are able to thrive financially and move forward in other areas.”

And all of this, Judy sums up, “can help to end the cycle of generational poverty.”

40th Anniversary Timeline: 2001 a year of tragedy & hope


2001

Looking back at the year 2001, it is hard to remember anything other than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. A few other historical bullet points:

  • George W. Bush was sworn in as President.
  • The Congressional Budget Office projected a $5.6 trillion dollar federal budget surplus over the next 10 years!
  • The Taliban began destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
  • In the Netherlands, the Act on the Opening up of Marriage went into effect, which allowed same-sex couples to marry legally for the first time in the world since the reign of Nero.
  • Locally, the Seattle Mariners set a record for winning baseball games, but flamed out in the playoffs.
  • The Nisqually earthquake shook the Seattle region, causing significant damage in Pioneer Square.

Financial Fitness 2001

For Solid Ground it was a time of piloting new ways of responding to the changing needs of our community.

We developed the Financial Skills Education program, later renamed Financial Fitness Boot Camp. The program offers money management classes, skill-building workshops and personal support for families working to attain financial and housing stability. Over the past few years, the program has been part of a national Learning Cluster to develop best practices for the field.

Working Wheels 2001Recognizing that lack of affordable transportation was a barrier to accessing well-paying jobs, in 2001 we partnered with Port Jobs to launch Working Wheels. This program received used fleet cars from the Port and the City of Seattle, as well as donations from private donors. The cars were brought up to safety and service standards by our Transportation Department mechanics and sold at affordable prices to people who needed a car to get or keep a job. We partnered with a local credit union to get favorable loan rates, and even provided ongoing maintenance through the short-lived Community Garage. Working Wheels was closed in 2009, a victim of changing economic conditions that made municipalities hold on to their fleet vehicles longer, and made fundraising for the program more challenging.

Undoing Racism 2001

2001 is also the year Solid Ground committed to undoing institutional racism:

  • Trained staff in Undoing Institutional Racism and cultural competency.
  • Formed a multi-racial staff-driven Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) to organize internally and begin to identify and prioritize anti-racism actions to better serve our clients.
  • Engaged staff and community members to recognize and take action against racism in our own lives and communities.

Responsible Lending 2001Additionally, our advocacy work ramped up its efforts to address predatory lending in 2001. The Statewide Poverty Action Network was a founding member of the Seattle/King County Coalition for Responsible Lending (SKCCRL), which increased awareness of and helped consumers avoid predatory loans, and worked with local lenders to increase affordable loan options without limiting credit access. Our staff  served on the founding SKCCRL steering committee and were active on its committees.

Financial Fitness Tip: Time for a spring financial checkup

Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp and ConnectUp are working together to send out  financial fitness tips like these a few times a month through the ConnectUp Resource Wire and will re-post them here on the Solid Ground blog.

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach JudySpring is almost here, and it’s a good time to get a checkup regarding your financial fitness. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you experiencing anxiety around your bills and payments from the holidays?
  • Are you preparing your taxes or at least thinking about it? (April 15th is just around the corner!)
  • Are you tracking your spending using a budget or spending plan?
  • How much are you saving each month for emergencies?

Well, the above sounds like a lot to do and can be stressful. Using these questions, make a list, or what is referred to as a “Financial Fitness Action Plan.” Prioritize what is most important to you and write a statement explaining why it is important to you. Next, decide what your action steps will be to meet each objective. Who will you contact for information or clarification? Make sure you have a pen and paper handy when calling so you can write down who you spoke to and what you spoke about.

It’s close to tax time. Don’t fret; there are many sites that can prepare your taxes for free. Get all of your documents together so that your time and the preparer’s time will be well spent. To find a free tax preparation site near you, call 2.1.1 and tell the operator that you want information about free tax preparation services. Or text the word TAX and your 5-digit zip code to 313131 or email EITC@uwkc.org or visit United Way’s Tax Help website.

You might say that you don’t have enough money to save. Well, start with $5. The point is, “just do it!”

We would like to invite you all to call the Financial Fitness Boot Camp at either 206.694.6739 or 206.694.6776 and make an appointment to come and see one of Solid Ground’s financial counselors. They can pull your credit report for free, teach you how to develop a budget/spending plan, and teach you how to read your credit report and what to do if you need to dispute an item. They would be happy to assist you with whatever you want to focus on to help you reach your financial fitness goals! Don’t delay, call today!

Seattle employs financial empowerment to help families thrive

Financial Fitness Boot Camp's Coach Judy

Financial Fitness Boot Camp’s Coach Judy

Seattle will be the first city on the West Coast to open no-cost Financial Empowerment Centers. Solid Ground will partner with Neighborhood House to provide a satellite center, likely at Sand Point Housing at Magnuson Park, in order to offer easy access to financial counseling for families and individuals in our transitional and permanent housing programs. 

One-on-one counseling will help people reduce debt, build credit, guard against predatory lending practices, understand foreclosure, and protect against fraud. Asset development coaching and budgeting will lower monthly costs, increase income, buffer against sudden crises, and prepare people for retirement.

Seattle’s program is modeled after the first financial empowerment pilot, launched in 2008 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The original pilot, according to the foundation, has helped over 19,000 families reduce their debt by more than $9 million.

Six Financial Empowerment Centers will open in 2014, with the main full-time site stationed at Neighborhood House in Rainier Vista. Each center will be positioned close to or within social service facilities that can offer additional resources for those living on low-incomes. Additional offices will be located at NewHolly, the Jim Wiley Community Center, YWCA Opportunity Place and North Seattle Community College.

Paul G. Allen Family Foundation provided a three year grant for the project, and is partnering with City of Seattle, Neighborhood House and United Way.

Breaking the cycle of poverty involves more than just helping people living on low-incomes make ends meet. At Solid Ground, we want people to be healthy, happy and build the skills they need to thrive.

In the coming year, we will implement our own plan to integrate financial empowerment into social service delivery at Solid Ground, developed during a six-month financial empowerment Learning Cluster hosted by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). And with the support from CFED through an 18-month Learning Cluster that began this month, our plan will provide the education and tools people living on low and moderate incomes need to move beyond just surviving to a place of stability, self-sufficiency and financial health.

September 2013 Groundviews newsletter: Holding herself accountable

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our September 2013 lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon (r) with Financial Fitness Boot Camp Program Supervisor, Judy Poston (l)

Sally Mary de Leon’s world flipped upside down when she finally got the courage to divorce her abusive husband, leaving her with nothing but her two children and a mountain of debt.

She says, “I just wanted him out – so I took the mortgage, I took all the debt, while he took everything else. He took the money; he took my stuff. So I essentially had to start over.” To make that new start possible, she filed for bankruptcy in 2010. 

But as a survivor of domestic violence, a veteran and an LPN who spent five intense years working in hospice care, Sally Mary now found herself physically and emotionally unable to work full time. She says, “I carried other people’s trauma, so it added to my own personal baggage.”

Sally Mary and her kids were living in transitional housing when she took a money management class at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Women’s Trauma & Recovery Center in Seattle, taught by Judy Poston, Program Supervisor of Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp. Sally Mary says, “I was really skeptical at first. The thing was, I didn’t have any money to manage! But then she presented on credit – writing your creditors and asking them to reduce your debt or eliminate it – and also going over your credit report and what can be done about it.”  

She’s there for me
Even after finding out that financial empowerment services were available to her, Sally Mary says, “It was really hard to ask for help. Because I’ve always done everything myself. There is a stigma that surrounds me, that when you have a handout, it’s bad. I felt incapable; I felt worthless.”

She changed her tune after a few one-to-one sessions with Judy, realizing, “It really isn’t bad. When I had my hand out, she didn’t put stuff on my hand – she held my hand! She essentially led me! I’ve learned through her that I don’t have to be ashamed. I’m not the only one that goes through this. And she’s constantly telling me that she’s there for me, which is great. Every time I look back, she’s right behind!”

As a financial coach, Judy says she’s learned from Sally Mary the importance of establishing relationships when working with vets. “A lot of people who have PTSD, the most important thing is to not be time consumed – to be willing to sit and listen to their story – even if you never talk about finances the first two or three appointments. Building trust is huge.”

Sally Mary agrees, “You definitely did that for me, because I wouldn’t have been able to open up the way I did. I am very grateful that I met Judy and for Financial Fitness Boot Camp being available. She’s very willing to listen and be open, and you’re absolutely not judgmental.”

Through Judy, Sally Mary found she qualified for a continuum of housing stabilization programs. “She was essentially a gateway to everything I’ve been doing with Solid Ground.” And Sally Mary says when she was granted VA Supportive Housing, “I needed not only help learning how to manage the money that I have and prioritizing what bills to pay, I was able to get help in a down payment for housing.” 

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

Sally Mary speaks her truth about predatory lending & debt collection practices on KCBS 91.3 FM

A reciprocal relationship
From the beginning of her engagement with Solid Ground, Sally Mary has been an asset, referring other vets to our services and connecting Judy with helpful information. Judy says, “She’s a walking resource book; when I have questions about VA/vets’ resources, this is who I can call.”

After hearing Sally Mary’s story, Judy connected her with Solid Ground’s advocacy efforts through the Statewide Poverty Action Network. Sally Mary spoke out on public radio about her struggles getting a checking account and her experiences with predatory debt collection practices (known as Zombie Debt). She says when she filed for bankruptcy, all of her debt (except for student loans and parking/traffic tickets) should have been dismissed, but “I literally have three debts that keep coming back to me through different creditors. It never fails, every three months there’s a new company contacting me. That’s not fair. If I did my part, why do they have to keep bringing back my old debt?”

She also spoke about predatory lending and how – thanks to Judy’s advice – she avoided the payday loan trap. Sally Mary says she was excited to get involved with Poverty Action because, “There are so many big people speaking for other big people, so I feel like us little people gotta stick together, because there’s a lot more of us. I see us as ants: As people, we carry a huge strength among us, and as we work together as a group, we can definitely move mountains.”

A work in progress
But despite moving her own financial mountains, Sally Mary is hard on herself. She says, “At this point, I think I’m a work in progress. I’ll admit it: I have this cycle of spending. When I feel ashamed, I go and buy something, and I feel good – but then I feel bad that I’ve spent the money and I feel shameful again.” Breaking into an infectious laugh, she says, “Judy gives me a lot of great ideas. Half of them I’ve implemented. I do try to be cognizant of what I’m doing, but it’s hard to remain honest with myself when no one’s holding me accountable.” Ever the coach, Judy counters, “I always like to tell Sally Mary that she has to hold herself accountable; that’s where it all starts. And I’m here as a support.”

Then Judy rattles off many ways Sally Mary has been accountable: “You’ve identified that you’re going to save this much per month – what it’s going to take to put that amount in the bank every month. You made the choices, and you’ve stuck with everything that we talked about and that you planned to do.” Sally agrees, “I definitely want to build self-esteem, and one of the ways to do that is having financial independence.”

In six months, if all goes well, Sally Mary’s student loans will be dismissed, and she’ll be debt-free. “I went from crawling to wheelchair to crutches, and I’m at a cane now. And who knows, maybe I’ll always need a cane? But at least I’m standing on my own two feet. And one thing I’ve learned from Judy is be forgiving. I’m still working on it!”

For more info on Financial Fitness Boot Camp, please visit: 
www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Financial

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