I opened up my Gmail the other morning to find the subject line “Woo-hoo your credit score went up!”
I stared at it for a moment and then moved on to the next email.
I’m pretty brave, but not brave enough to start the day by facing my credit score. You see, I’m a professional writer. For the most part, writers are not rich.
For more than 20 years, I’ve had the pleasure to write for hundreds of publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Credit Union Times, but I don’t earn the paycheck of, say, Maureen Dowd. That’s fine by me, because I love what I do, even if it means not always being paid on time or having job stability. After all, during the financial crisis, many Americans who thought they had job stability lost their jobs anyway.
But despite my relatively high profile in the credit union community and with major newspapers across the country, my credit union is not impressed with my bylines.
For 35 years, I’ve been a member of a credit union in California, and I can’t help but think they don’t understand me. That’s a problem, because I’m the type of American that credit unions were chartered to serve.
It’s not that they don’t care, I think they really do, because they always ask me about my travels, my family, and my writing, and because I’m pretty open with my life they know a lot about me except it seems, my financial issues.
Which brings me back to my credit score. It’s not great. I eventually opened the email and peeked at my free credit score and credit report, finding two items still on my report that I’ve paid off. I also have three outstanding medical bills, thanks to health insurance that has a monthly premium I can afford but also has a large deductible. I have one credit card with a $1000 limit but no other debt. I’m not a big spender, and I don’t have a car or house payment.
The average U.S. credit score is 687. I’m not quite there, but I would like to be. However, I face a steep uphill battle. Because I’m considered subprime, I would pay a fortune to borrow money to pay off those hospital bills or pay for the next unexpected major expense. It is estimated that 113 million Americans like me – people who do work and don’t live beyond their means – have non-prime credit scores. There are literally millions of people that credit unions could help improve the financial positions of and eventually extend credit to.
Now, I know there are plenty of credit unions that go out on a limb to help underserved members because I’ve written Community Development grants for them. Some of my friends who belong to other credit unions, are offered classes on rebuilding their credit and given small personal loan, —unsecured— to get themselves back on track. But not me.
A few years ago, in a moment of frustration I even opened a second account with a major bank, but I missed the personal service and friendliness of my credit union and quickly closed it.
Since I travel so much I can literally walk into almost any town and find a credit union that is also a member. I also love visiting one of the other branches of my credit union and recognizing an employee who is still working there after 30 years, confirming that it’s a great place to work.
Which is why my credit union confuses me —they know who I am and they know my financial challenges, so why don’t they reach out to me and offer credit counseling or financial education? Or how about some products or services that are appropriate for me? One thing credit unions such as mine could do, is offer their members in my situation Ser Tech’s Flitter, which gives members the real, authentic FICO® Score not those other “education scores,” but the score that truly determines what loans and loan terms they qualify for. Each Flitter report provides the member’s FICO® Score and the key factors affecting that score, plus an explanation of those factors. They’ll also receive comprehensive credit education, financial health management tips, Balance consumer credit counseling and other helpful services, which is what I was dreaming my credit union would do for me.
Instead, they send me offers for new car or mortgage loans which if they looked at my finances they would know up front that I don’t qualify.
Although I would love to obtain a loan for a new car or RV, I know I have to work on my credit score by keeping my credit card balance down and slowly paying off those hospital bills. My credit union isn’t perfect, but I’ll be staying with them because the positives outweigh the minuses. I hope one day they will take the time to see what I really need financially and that their offers of auto loans and credit cards are not always ‘one size fits all’ solutions. In the meantime, you’ll find me working hard to increase my credit score.