Tell us about a time you helped a customer who was struggling with sticking to a budget.
Marc Pendleton: I was working with a client, and she and her wife had no idea where their money was going. They both had six-figure incomes and lived in California, but they lived paycheck to paycheck. I saw that they got dinner and drinks out every night. Looking at her spending report, she was able to see that on her own report, she had spent $3,000 that month on food — and it was only the 17th of the month! This was eye-opening for her. I gave her the idea to use a subscription service that provides food and recipes. When I followed up with her, she told me it brought her closer to her wife, and now their friends love coming over for dinner — for a lot less money.
Ryan Vowell: I spoke to a father who found himself in a situation that could have cost him his home. We looked at his credit and identified issues with his family’s budgeting. He decided it would be best to bring the family together and explain the situation. Once that happened, he started to have hope. His kids started to help the family save money by cutting power usage and assisting in grocery shopping, and his oldest child even started paying her own cell phone bill. Coupled with other changes, this freed up enough money to start paying off other debts. His credit score increased to the point that he able to turn around his financial situation. All of this happened because we identified his need and gave him a vision to work toward.
Eli Storment: I’ve been helping a customer work toward a savings goal for about a year now. She tracks her spending online, and we’ve formulated a plan to pay off her debts. She now only has one credit card left to pay down, compared to three that she started with. She also has been able to raise her credit score from 640 to 740 in that time frame. We’re working to finish paying off her last credit card, and then we will turn our focus to paying down a loan.
Christina Pohorelec: One of my customers had high balances on her credit cards, and she was using more than 80% of her available credit. After a credit conversation, I recommended she stop using her cards, and to try to stay below 30% utilization. I suggested pulling a free credit report on AnnualCreditReport.com, and she discovered she had unpaid medical bills on her report. In just a month and a half, her score increased by 20 points. She’s now working with a home mortgage consultant to discuss home financing options.
How do you advise customers to start saving for a large expense?
Ryan Vowell: I start by laying the right groundwork. I tell them, ‘It’s all about your mindset and commitment level.’ We all make day-to-day decisions about our money, whether regarding future goals or deciding if you need to buy a snack. I always coach that the former should stay in your mind daily, but the latter is what you need to control each day. Short-term and long-term goals are achieved through daily habits.
Samantha Luttrell: One of my customers had already started saving for a large vacation, but she found herself dipping into her savings to cover expenses. She also mentioned she pays all her bills and sends everything else directly into savings. I suggested treating her vacation goal as a bill — come up with a number, like $200, and pay it. Then any remaining funds we will set aside at the end of the month for personal savings. The customer loved the idea and said she will be working on treating her vacation as a “bill” and paying herself first.
What do you tell people who want to improve or establish credit?
Maria D. Price: First, we talk about how credit works. I explain things like debt-to-income ratio, why you should keep credit accounts open, how 35% of a credit score is based on payment history, and the importance of keeping balances on credit accounts below 30% of the credit limit. Then we create a specific plan tailored to improving their credit: for example, establishing the snowball method to pay off the smallest credit card debt first so the customer may see a positive result in the shortest possible time.
Christina Pohorelec: I share the importance of knowing where you stand with your credit. Taking a look beneath the surface of credit can give us insight on what areas need improving. I explain that there is a strategy behind what makes up a credit score. You want to have the best credit not only to be approved for borrowing needs, but also to qualify for the best rates.
How do you help customers who have difficulty paying bills on time?
Ryan Vowell: Most of the time, there’s a bigger reason behind why customers can’t make their payments, so we focus on their budget. We figure out what spending areas can be improved, and we use our findings to motivate a change. I’ve had customers tell me they couldn’t afford their mortgage, but we found $400 a month dedicated to eating out. That’s $4,800 a year. It’s all about taking a magnifying glass to the situation and setting priorities.
Samantha Luttrell: Many of our customers have a “pay as you go” method, which can sometimes cause a missed payment. It’s important to have a system for managing your bills. I try to get my customers on a calendar tracking system. Once a statement comes in the mail, they go straight to the calendar to write down the payment due date and the amount. Look at the calendar daily and mark off payments once they’re made. I also encourage customers to take advantage of our digital tools and set up automatic payments to help ensure bills are paid on time, every time.
Ready to talk to a Financial Health Banker? Call 1-877-924-8692, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Time.
It’s a good idea to have a recent checking account statement in front of you when you call. And be prepared to answer questions about your monthly spending habits. Depending on your unique financial situation, the first phone call could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.