I remember it well. My early twenties self sat in the overstuffed and under comfortable chair in the office of a bank loan manager. The reason I moved to Missouri sat next to me. The loan manager closed the manila folder, slid it across her desk, and shook her head. “No. I’m sorry. We can’t help you. You have no credit.” I was confused. Why was this a bad thing? Wasn’t it good that you didn’t have to take out credit cards? Didn’t that show you were responsible and paid everything just fine. And why couldn’t they look at the rent? I had been paying the rent for an apartment in Philly for two years before I moved. We paid rent for the house we were in. Never late – that I knew of. Why wouldn’t they let me have a loan to buy a house?
Seeing my confusion, the loan manager sat back in her chair, took a breath, and explained to me, “Your history is fine. You have nothing. And that’s not bad. Most people your age have credit cards they maxed out in college.” She looked at my mistake, red faced and sweating, “ Your credit is not good. You have student loans that haven’t been paid on. Two evictions in two states. And a car that’s been repossessed. If you were on the loan your history would sky rocket the interest.”
That right there was my first lesson in financial responsibility. Love is blind but loan officers see all. The fact that he was making two thousand dollars a week and couldn’t afford to get a loan boggled my brain. But my brain was pretty boggly to start with. Hence I was in a relationship with a guy who thought Robin Williams was not actually Mrs. Doubtfire and couldn’t qualify for a secured credit card with a hundred dollar limit.
I asked, “What do I need to do to help this?”
“Get a card, buy some things, pay it off. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Have a nice day.”
And that was all my ex needed to hear. In less that a year, my no credit went to bad credit. He took out five separate cards in my name and racked them up. Some are still calling and sending me letters for collections. It’s been twenty years and I’m still recovering my credit from one bad choice. I let someone else handle my financial life.
This all could have been prevented long before I even met him.
Enter another memory I will remember through my nursing home days. Fifteen year old me was in a shouting match with my Geometry teacher. She was a little upset because I just questioned the validity of her employment. As in, I asked why the hell we even needed to learn geometry. I can say, after all these year, I still have never used a bit of it. And I was mad. I was angry. Why were we wasting time learning something no one had need for? Why weren’t we learning about credit cards, mortgages, car loans, how to fill out job applications? We were getting ready to fill out FAFSA and all those forms for loans for college. Our school counselor made sure everyone applied to ten colleges including the Community College of Philadelphia. But we had no idea what those forms really meant. No one explained the long term effects of signing up for forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollar loans at eighteen years old. No one understood how long we would be paying for those useless pieces of paper.
And who thought it was a good idea to let me go in for Marine Biology? Someone should have set up an intervention. My Gods, I wasted that first year just trying to figure out who I was let alone what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Credit scores are so much more readily available now. But they still don’t make sense to me. If I pay off a card it takes a month for it to show up and raise my score a point. If I miss a payment by a day, my credit score drops twenty points and my interest goes to twenty nine percent. Who made these rules? If you can show me an updated score it should actually be up to date.
Honestly, it is better than it used to be. I remember when you could only access your three full credit reports for free once a year. After that you had to pay. Think about that. The younger cats reading this are shaking their heads. Gen X remembers. I doubt there’s a boomer other than my mom reading this. Hi, ma.
And talking about easy, it is so much easier now to fight things on your credit. One, you don’t have to wait a year to find out your ex signed you up for five thousand dollars worth of cookware, forged your signature, and now you’re on the hook for at least half. Two, you don’t have to go through lawyers to get your name off a lease for an office in a city you don’t live in. Three, you can actively watch your good habits pay off as things drop off your credit report.
I want to spare you the pain I’ve gone through. And it is a pain. Not just a pain in the neck. But a literal shot in the heart knowing you’ve let someone continually financially abuse you and hold you hostage when all you needed was a little education. I wish that loan lady would have reached out to me and let me know what I was in for. She knew. It was written all over her face. It was in her tone when she spoke to him. She knew what he was doing, and she watched us walk out of the office as she bid us good day.
Things are changing now. I’ve seen where paying your rent on time is now going to be reflected on your credit report and in your credit score. About damn time. If you require my credit score and report to let me sign a lease, then you should be reporting to the credit bureaus. End.
But wait, there’s more. And this is where I’m going to lose a lot of you. Sorry, not sorry. We live in a society where it’s claimed education is valued. So much so we make teenagers that still have to ask to go to the bathroom sign paperwork enslaving them for the next twenty or thirty years to insane payments. If we’re not going to offer free college education then at least offer interest free loans. I have seen so many of my friends who have paid the initial loan at least twice over simply because of interest. If we continue to have student loans then they should be zero percent interest for the life of the loan.
And how about adding financial literacy to schools. And I don’t mean some Dave Ramsey shit. No. My kid had that in her senior year. It was taught by a Dave Ramsey stan. I swear this guy had an altar in a safe deposit box. Some things Dave talks about are sound. But it’s not a one size fits all plan. And my kid came home more afraid of being an adult than ever. We need to have these conversations with our kids. And miss me with that, “Well I had to do this so they should have to.” Lots of people had to get polio. Does that mean you should, too? The whole part of being a parent is making sure they don’t have to struggle or suffer unnecessarily like you did. It goes back to the “I want you to have what I didn’t.” And I’m sorry you got saddled with fifty thousand dollars worth of debt for a masters in business and now you’re teaching a bunch of kids about FICO scores. But do better teaching these kids what the tools are and how to use them. Credit cards are not evil. Pay day loans are. And your Uncle Joey’s friend is not the guy to go to for some quick cash. Value your kneecaps, kids.
I’d say one of the most adult moments in my life was being able to call my mom and tell her I had a seven hundred credit score. Without going to much into my childhood and my parents’ lives, I’ll tell you, money was an issue. My mom and her budget and her financial savvy was what saved us. A few times. It’s how we went from salt sandwiches to a time share in Walt Disney World. It can happen. My mom made it happen. That’s determination and sacrifice at its finest. I knew, if there was anyone who would celebrate my achievement, it was my mom. And I got to hear the words every only child in the Gen X world longs to hear, “I’m proud of you.”
Thanks, Ma. I learned it by watching you. And I’m proud of me, too. Even though that last Disney trip dinged me pretty good. And Christmas is coming. You would think I would be prepared for Christmas. It shows up the same time every year. And yet, here we go again. But it’s OK. I just need someone to take this Amazon credit card away from me. And the one click button. My Gods that thing is the best and worst thing to ever exist. Damn you, Bezos!
And you have to give me a little credit – see what I did there? I’m so clever. It’s taken my all my adult life to learn these lessons. Don’t let anyone handle your money but you. And if you don’t know how, research. Learn. Because we live in a society that values this stuff more than life itself. So you better know what you’re doing or someone will take advantage of you and your lack of education. And you are too valuable for that. You deserve to know what’s going on with your money and your credit. Ask for lower interest rates. Ask to move your due dates to work with the other bills you have and you pay days.
And stay off Amazon Prime days. I ashamed of how much I spent. But at least Christmas is handled early this year. You have to give me credit on that.



Add yours

  1. Damn another good one. This is life-changing information that all youngins’ (dating myself there…LOL) need to know. I clearly remember a life skills course in high school that taught us how to open a savings/checking account, keep your account, and balance it. I remember learning how to fill out a “government” job application because those were the most difficult, and how to write a cover letter and resume.

    But alas nothing about credit health, how to gain it, and how to maintain it. I didn’t learn that until I was much older and that was after my own student loans. Schools are hard-pressed for you to sign these forms, and yes there is information in conjunction with the forms, but it’s like reading another language. Someone needs to break it down and explain how long you’ll be saddled with the loan, how long it takes to pay off, and if you default on these loans the Dept of Education will take your tax return if they can’t get at your wages, which I learned the hard way.

    All in all great information here.


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