Improving Financial Health – Ep.61

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July 21, 2022
Innovative Payment Technology – Ep.62
October 4, 2022

Authors of “Credit Repair Kit for Dummies (5th edition),” Steve Bucci, Melyssa Barrett and Rod Griffin discuss what inspired them to write the book, share tips to overcome challenges within the financial system and explain how consumers can improve their financial health. 

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

Steve Bucci has been helping people decode and master personal credit and debt issues for the last 20 years. He’s the author of the popular books Credit Repair Kit For Dummies, fifth edition, Barnes & Noble Debt Management, Credit Management Kit For Dummies. Co-author of Managing Your Money All-in-One For Dummies, and Debt Repair Kit For Dummies, in Australia.

For more than a decade, he’s authored a popular weekly personal finance column for the financial mega-site He also writes a weekly column on credit scoring that appears on He’s a personal credit coach, speaker, expert witness in identity theft and credit scoring related cases. And he began his career in counseling at the Yale Psychiatric Institute before switching to business careers in management consulting and then finance, developing and bringing to market both publicly and privately traded investment products.

He also was president of several nationally and internationally respected nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping the consumer wisely use credit. And those include Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rhode Island, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern New England, and the Money Management International Financial Education Foundation.

And I could go on and on, but I will shift over as well to talk about Rod Griffin. He is the Senior Director of Consumer Education and Advocacy for Experian. He’s responsible for Experian’s national consumer education programs and outreach. Rod serves as an expert spokesperson on consumer issues, particularly credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft, and is frequently quoted by national television, print, radio, and online media. And for more than two decades, he and his team have published Ask Experian, the industry’s first online consumer credit advice column. He was named 2016 Educator of the Year by the Institute for Financial Literacy. He’s co-author for the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies, fifth edition, from Wiley Publishing. And I could go on and on about Rod as well.

I had the absolute pleasure of connecting with them, being asked by Steve to co-author the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies, fifth edition. So, this week I have the pleasure of having both Rod Griffin and Steve Bucci join me to talk about money management, credit repair, credit scoring. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

All right, so this week I am so excited to be joined by some phenomenal experts in the field. Many of you know that I spent a lifetime in the financial services and FinTech industries, and I’ve had the pleasure, extreme pleasure of meeting wonderful people on that journey. So, these are two of those wonderful people, Steve Bucci and Rod Griffin. And I will speak for Rod and just say that we were blessed to be asked to contribute to the fifth edition of the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies, originally hailed by Steve Bucci himself. And it was for me anyway, I’m sure Rod can jump in here, but for me it was an awesome experience to learn what it takes to actually become an author and be an author. And we hope that it continues to be a gift that just keeps on giving.

So, I do want to just give a shout out to our publisher, Wiley, and the For Dummies brand that bring you the do-it-yourself aspects of critical content, by experienced professionals. And I want to give a shout out to John Hope Bryant, the founder and CEO of Operation Hope. And I know he’s doing wonderful things in this world and we just appreciate him and his team helping us and providing the foreword to the book Credit Repair Kit For Dummies.

So, first of all, I just want to welcome you both to The Jali Podcast and thank you for all that you all are doing in the world to help improve the financial lives of others. I’m going to just start with Steve, because he’s the one that started this whole thing in the first place. And maybe you can just talk a little bit about why you wanted to write this book.

Steve Bucci:  Thank you, Melyssa. And Rob, good to see you. Why write this book? Because no one else had done it. There has been a lot of writing on personal finance, on pieces of credit, on different aspects, but no one book really tied, I think, it all together. And when Wiley contacted me, good Lord, back in around 20 years ago, to come up with the first edition, it was a real opportunity to try and help people understand how they fit into the entire picture and not just look at the elephant one piece at a time.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Steve Bucci:  Yeah. My background, I started in counseling, then moved into investments, then moved into non-profit credit counseling and working with people who were in financial issues. And tying them all together, I could see the difficulty people had, that it just wasn’t there.

In the investment world, you can’t sell investments to people unless they’re suitable. In the credit world, suitability, it varies. It varies by who you’re getting your credit from. And some of them aren’t really looking for suitable, they’re looking for, “Can I make some money on this guy?” And that’s all they care about. So, understanding how credit works, how it fits into all of your finances, how your entire really successful life in America relies on your ability to manage your credit, to manage your debts, to keep your goals in mind when you’re making transactions is essential. Without that, you’re going to be lost and you’re going to be doing what someone else wants, not what you want.

And that’s the whole purpose of the book, is to put the reader back into control of all their financial aspects in one particular capsule, we call it Credit Repair Kit For Dummies. It’s more than credit repair, but it is the essential piece in your finances.

Melyssa Barrett:  And it’s not necessarily for dummies.

Steve Bucci:  Expertise is overrated because it tends to be one slice. And I have people who are experts in medicine, people who are experts in accounting, people who are experts in building houses, but boy, they don’t know anything about financial stuff. And it’s not to be ashamed of, it’s to be expected.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. I mean, well where would you learn? I mean, in America there’s not a whole lot of schools that actually take on that component of teaching financial education in the school.

Steve Bucci:  No, and especially when you get to the point where you’re at higher education. You could make the case that a lot of institutions of higher education are complicit in not informing you of what’s really going on. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending 100 and $200,000 for degrees that you can’t afford to pay for. You might do something else for a while until you figure out what you really want to do.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well.

Steve Bucci:  So, be careful who you ask for advice. And of course, dummies, you can always ask for advice.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and Rod, you’re doing so many wonderful things in terms of Experian and your specific role as Senior Director of Consumer Education and Advocacy makes you so perfect to bring that knowledge into play. Why did you want to get involved with the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies?

Rod Griffin:  I got involved because Steve kept asking me until he wore me out. No. No, I’ve known Steve for a long time and it was something that, as you said, it’s an opportunity to help people. And I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been with Experian 25 years and my role has always been about helping people. I’m not tasked with selling things. My job is to help educate people, help people, and as Steve said, to really take control of their credit history, their credit scores, understand how to use them as a financial tool so that they’re not being taken advantage of.

I always tell people that you should be able to walk into a lender, know exactly what they’re going to see and be able to tell them, “You’re going to give me a loan. I know what the rates are going to be, because I know exactly what you’re going to look at and what your decision has to be.” And that’s empowering. It helps people get the finances they need, access to lower cost credit and other financial tools. It helps make their lives better. And that’s what Credit Repair Kit For Dummies is all about. It’s not about credit repair, and I’ve had people in my industry say, “How can you have a book that’s called Credit Repair and say it’s not credit repair?” It’s exactly the opposite. It’s about empowering people to not need to rely on something for a quick fix.

It’s about giving people the ability and the knowledge they need to own and care for and utilize credit to their advantage, so that they don’t have to dig themselves out of financial difficulty. Or to help them do that exact thing, to get out of financial difficulty, put their credit in a place that it’s there to work for them. And that’s what we really want, is to help people engage and have the knowledge they need. And that’s what Steve did for so long. That’s why it’s such an honor to be working with you, Melyssa, and to be part of this group. It’s the smartest people I know in the field, so I’m lucky to be here. I’m the dummy in the group, probably.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh yeah, sure. For me personally, aside from Steve calling me like he called you-

Rod Griffin:  It’s a good system.

Melyssa Barrett:  … what was fun for me because I was like, I’ve never written a book before, I don’t know why you even thought to call me, but I think what was so exciting for me, having come from a FinTech background, working in financial services for so long, Steve and I knew each other from when he was president of one of the credit counseling agencies. And I think at the time I was, maybe when we met, I was probably doing a lot of work on the bankruptcy side. And a lot of what we were doing was really trying to understand why people were filing bankruptcy and what is it that we could do to help people so that bankruptcy could be the last option instead of the first resort?

And so, we stayed in touch over the years and Steve would check in. And what was fun for me is just being able to look at financial education and the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies as not only a book for repairing, “I’m in a problem and now I need to get out.” But I mean, the practical aspects of learning how to create a budget, what does that look like? I just had identity theft perpetrated against me. What do I do? Who do I call? I mean, it’s like some real practical information where you don’t necessarily have to read the book beginning to end, but you can also pick it up when you have an issue and just go right to the area that you need to deal with right now, which is awesome.

And then obviously, because there’s such a wealth gap when we think about by ethnicity, the opportunity for me to have a voice in, how did consumer credit expand in the first place and why do we even have these Fair Credit Reporting Act rules? And I think it’s something that people don’t necessarily understand, that credit reporting is really about making sure you have access to know how people are making decisions about you and to be able to correct it when it’s wrong.

So, anyway, for me it was just a great experience. So, I just appreciate Steve for his foresight in asking us to join. So, it has truly been a pleasure, Rod, working with you as well. So, let’s talk about some of the highlights in terms of … And I don’t know, Steve or Rod, you guys just jump in here. Are there tips, challenges that resonate for you in the book or even in your life?

Steve Bucci:  Well, I’ll start at the beginning, and it’s knowing what you want to do. It’s understanding where you want to get to and then figuring out how you’re going to get there. If you wake up every morning and don’t know what you’re going to do, you’re going to do what someone else wants, chances are. When you go to the store, if you don’t have a list, you’re going to buy whatever is on sale or whatever they want you to buy. Candy is down low at the checkout counter for a reason, that’s where the little guys are and they see it, they go, “Oh, mom, I need this, I need this.” It’s all out there. If you’re not programming your own life, someone else will do it for you.

And it starts with goal setting. And we start with that in the book, that goal setting is the key to everything. Understanding how you see your future, what are your dreams? And once you have dreams and you write them down or you post them somewhere, now it’s a matter of, how do you get the steps in place to get you so that you can get to those dreams? And that is what financial success is about. Living your life to the fullest, enjoying what you’re doing, and then building so that you can have security and that you can realize the dreams that you and your partner, if you’re lucky enough to have one, and your kids have, as you go forward in life. We couldn’t put that on the title. And we once tried, the same book, but if you want, backwards, and we called it Credit Management Kit For Dummies, this was for people to manage their credit successfully. Nobody bought the book because nobody will pay a nickel to stay good.

Melyssa Barrett:  It’s an ever-evolving thing, right?

Steve Bucci:  Everyone will pay to get out of a pickle, but no one will pay to avoid getting into it in the first place. So, we have the Credit Repair Kit, but it all starts with goals. If you don’t know what your goals are, you’re going to get lost. And setting the goals is probably the most important thing. Everything else falls into that. Your credit score will help you realize your goals, your credit reporting, the way that you keep track of your money, your budgeting, et cetera. It all rolls together once you start your goal setting.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah. And I think for me it was all of that plus the opportunity to really present people with fact as opposed to myth. And there’s so much of that out there today, especially around my world where I’m working with credit reports and scores every day, fraud and identity theft every day, that there is so much out there when you’re on social media in particular, that sounds great, but will actually cause you to have more problems and put you in a worse place than you would’ve if you had had the facts.

And so, really being able to separate fact from fiction and to give people the information they need in a book that, Melyssa, like you said, it’s not a read cover to cover, as you said it’s, “I have an issue, what do I need to do?” Then you can go right to that piece. Or, “I have a question, where do I get the answer?” And you find that section, you can get the answer you need, so that you can make the right decisions, or know that you need to ask more questions. And that to me, is really critical, because I spend my days hearing really very strange things about what people think is affecting credit reports and scores and explaining that that’s not the case. And people looking for a quick fix, which usually ends up in more disaster. So, that’s what was really motivating for me, was that we get to share information that can empower people, that’s accurate and that gives them control. And I think that’s the most important thing we can do.

Steve Bucci:  Let me build on that just a second, because people will say, “Well, why can’t I just Google it and get the answer? I mean, why do I need a piece of paper? God, this thing’s old. I mean it’s almost a year old now. Must be out of date. Why don’t I just go online and get all the answers I need online?” And I’ll answer the question myself, because you can’t believe what you get online. There are people out there, surprise, surprise, who will take advantage of you. There are people who have an agenda. There are people out there who just don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re glad to share it with you. And you can-

Rod Griffin:  So, everything on the internet isn’t true?

Melyssa Barrett:  Unfortunately not.

Steve Bucci:  Wiley has been publishing dummy books for decades. They have a reputation, they have experience, they go after people that know what they’re talking about. They put it in a book. The three of us got together because we wanted to educate folks. You got the credit counseling piece, you got the Visa piece, and the piece from Experian and the credit reporting. You put those all together and that’s a powerful group of experts that you can find in one place and you can rely on the information. Anybody who thinks they can get educated on the internet on their own, good luck.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, I think the part that I also like though is the fact that, Rod talks a lot about the credit report, and there are things in there that people think they have to pay for when they can just do it themself. I mean, even if there’s a dispute on your credit report, you don’t have to pay someone to fix that. You know what I mean?

And now it’s easier than ever to actually engage with your own information. So, I love the fact that we also pull out that there are things that you can do, you don’t have to pay for them, you can do them yourself. And they’re not hard, but people are making lots of money by saying, “I’ll write a letter every week till something falls off.” Or, whatever.

Steve Bucci:  Yes. And if you hire the wrong person, you’ll be in worse shape than when you started.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rod Griffin:  From the credit reporting side of things, and I always reference the Federal Trade Commission instead of what I would tell you, and the Federal Trade Commission has said, “There’s nothing that you cannot do yourself for free, that the for-profit credit repair firm, particularly those that aren’t operating above board, which there are sadly a lot of, will charge you to do.” So, you can do it for free.

I will say this about our industry, about the credit reporting industry, we’ve done a very poor job of being human. And I think that’s a challenge. There’s 7,000 people that work for Experian and we’re all in the same system and we all have to do exactly the same thing. I was a victim of fraud, I had to do the same process that anyone else would. So, we’re not just machines and computers and big buildings. And I’ve told our leadership that, that we need to do a better job of helping people know that we really are people too, and that we do care about what’s there. Because one, we want it to be right, we want to do well, and two, because my information’s in that system too and so we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re doing the right things and getting the right information to people, and we need to do a better job of that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. So, in terms of the system itself, the credit system, I know this is a loaded question, but I mean, what do you think about the system itself, how it works today, some of the changes that are being made, how are they benefiting people overall?

Steve Bucci:  You have to understand the system, you don’t have to understand, but it helps to know what the system used to be like, to say, “Is this system a good system or not?” And the system we had before this system was horrible.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, that was like when my dad would walk in and they’d be like, “I’m sorry, please exit.” Right?

Steve Bucci:  Yes. Yes. Or, “Here’s a lady with a tattoo, she can’t get a loan. I’m sorry. Bring your husband back, honey, then we’ll talk about it.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Right.

Steve Bucci:  Yeah. That is gone. I mean, we are worlds away from where we were before. Is it perfect? No. Is it a lot better? Yes. And the more a person understands the system, the better it is, their chances, of negotiating it successfully.

Melyssa Barrett:  But I mean think about it, now you have a lot of, especially young people, they may not even have a bank account or a checking or a savings account. They might get paid on a prepaid card or whatever.

Steve Bucci:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So, there’s lots of different tools now that weren’t around as well.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah. And that’s something that we will need another edition because there are things that are changing all the time, and even in the last couple of years. So, I think we mentioned Experian Boost in the book.

Melyssa Barrett:  Mm-hmm.

Rod Griffin:  At Experian, we’re looking at exactly those things, Melyssa, it’s about, how do we use information that will help people who aren’t part of the credit reporting system? So, we know there are about 26 million people who are credit invisible, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because they simply haven’t had access to traditional credit tools. So, at Experian we’ve looked at cellphone payments and utility payments, streaming services. So, you can watch Netflix on date night and get credit score points for it now. And now as of last week, it’s brand new, you can have your rent reported, so your positive rent payments.

So, things like that are happening in the system for that very reason, we can help people gain access to the traditional credit reporting system, because that is a key, if not the key to greater financial health and greater financial success. When you have a credit report, it brings you into the lower cost, more advantageous financial system, and can help break cycles like credit repair schemes that are not helping people, or predatory lending like payday loans or title loans, or those sorts of things. So, the system, as Steve said, it’s vastly better than it was, it’s vastly better than it was when I started 25 years ago. We’re much more focused on, how do we empower individuals and consumers? 30 years ago, it was solely about, can a bank make a loan? And now-

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. And how do we make sure they don’t have high charge offs? Right?

Rod Griffin:  Right. Yeah. And now at Experian our philosophy is, we want to be thought of as the consumers’ bureau, because people are being empowered and we want to be part of that and we want to be the connection, not a barrier to financial success. So, how do we help people connect with lenders? Because lenders want to connect with people. And so, we want to be the conduit for that and we want to help empower people because we’re finding that that’s really good for our business and that’s a very powerful motivator.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah, and I think … Oh, go ahead, Steve. Yep.

Steve Bucci:  That’s a great point of view to have, if you can get that across to people, is that it’s not about the lenders, it’s about the people using financial tools to have a much better life for themselves. I mean, the young person who doesn’t have a bank account, who just uses a debit card or gets their paycheck downloaded onto some other device, they say, “Well, what do I need a bank for?” Well, if you’ve got those goals out there and you say, “One day I want to buy a car that I can’t pay cash for.” Or, “I want to buy a house.” Or, “I want to do a number of other things that require financing.” That’s what you need it for. “And banks, well, banks don’t like me.” Well, they do, they like you a lot, if you give them reason to and they want to do business with you. But consumers are the driver, it’s not the other way around like it used to be.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Steve Bucci:  And consumers can see credit bureaus as their ticket, the credit bureau’s working for them, credit bureau’s accumulating their information so that they can present themselves and save some money and realize their goals and have a really, really successful financial life. That is the way I’m hoping people will start to look at this stuff.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and that’s really interesting because you’re really talking about, when you start talking about goal setting, it’s like your intentions around what you want to do will guide you in what you need to do, even when you think about your credit report or your financial health. And there’s so many people, I know there are studies out there, I won’t quote any right now, but there are so many studies where more than, I think it’s like, I don’t know, somewhere in the 80% of people, I think, that don’t consider themselves financially healthy. And I will look up that number and put it in the description.

But I mean, that’s a lot of folks that are not feeling like they’re financially healthy, which also then impacts their physical health, their mental health. And so to me, it’s such an opportunity for us to focus on financial education and as you say, to really empower people and give them permission to dream. Because I think that’s key, I think, especially when I think about people of color, there’s so much trauma out there that a lot of times it’s hard to dream about buying a house when you’re trying to put food on the table or whatever.

So, I think especially when we think about marginalized communities, underrepresented, just being able to help people realize and inspire that there is a pathway, that they can get there and they can get that 800 credit score and be in the 800 club, right? And so, talking to folks like you, give us the opportunity to really spread the word on how you can do that.

Rod Griffin:  And just as an example of that, I was on another podcast a couple of weeks ago with an organization that brings nurses into the country who are immigrants, because there’s such a need in that field. And they had one of the people that they’ve brought here, and he has been in the country for four years, didn’t have any financial relationships when he got here, he has an 800-plus credit score, he bought a house, his income, his savings, he’s done all of the things that you talk about. And he said that where he’s from, there was no tool that lets you do that, but here you could establish credit.

His credit score, he saw as a way to give him an advantage. And not having some of the background that a lot of us have around credit reports and scores and seeing it as a barrier, he came here, was introduced to it and saw it as an opportunity and a tool that would help him get where he needed to be. And he’s been very, very successful, I’d say.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rod Griffin:  But a different mindset, right? And as you said it, he had dreams and he used the tools that were available to him to achieve those dreams and didn’t start from that mental position of feeling like he was trapped, because he didn’t know about the system and was able to approach it differently.

Steve Bucci:  Right. Good point.

Rod Griffin:  So, sometimes that knowledge is really helpful and powerful.

Steve Bucci:  Good point. Anybody who feels trapped doesn’t have to be trapped. There are ways that they can change their lives, quite literally. I mean, you talked about those people who are financially, how did you put it, Melyssa?

Melyssa Barrett:  Healthy.

Steve Bucci:  Not financially healthy.

Melyssa Barrett:  Not financially healthy. Mm-hmm.

Steve Bucci:  They are not happy being not financially healthy, they wish they were healthy. Well, you can do more than wish, you can make it happen. It is not hard. You just need the right information, you need the tools to build on, and you can be happy and you can be financially sound. And it’s there, understanding where to get it, making sure you get the right information. I had a lady who called me, she was from Houston, she had a good salary, good job, wanted to buy a house, couldn’t. Crappy credit rating. Can we say crappy?

Melyssa Barrett:  Sure.

Steve Bucci:  Crappy credit rating.

And we started with doing a budget, “Where are you spending your money? What’s going on? Why is your credit so bad?” And it turns out she was fine, the boyfriend was not. She said, “Well, they’re like that.” I said, “No, they’re not like that.” I said, “You make enough money, the bills aren’t being paid because he’s making more, he’s not paying his. You’re on [inaudible 00:33:09].” I said, “He’s got to go.” I said, “You cannot do what you want to do carrying this weight.” And she thought about it, she got rid of the boyfriend, and she started paying her bills and her credit score went up and I think six months later she bought a house.

Melyssa Barrett:  Nice.

Steve Bucci:  Hallelujah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Steve Bucci:  It can be done.

Melyssa Barrett:  Sometimes you got to get rid of the dead weight, right?

Steve Bucci:  That’s right. And you’ve got to stop doing things maybe you’ve been doing, and do what makes sense for you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rod Griffin:  And get the right advice. So, talking about people calling you, one of my proudest moments was a few months ago, my grandson called me because he graduated from high school and he wanted to know what he should do to build credit. I’m like, “Wow, he knows where I work and what I do, and he asked the right questions.” His aunt told me one day, she works at a dentist’s office, and she came home and proudly announced that she was talking to her dentist about credit reports. Are we going to ask me about molars next? I don’t know. You know where I work, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. Well, and honestly I think it’s just fabulous that people are feeling confident enough to actually talk about these things. But to your point, we want them to have the right information. I think we were talking about buy now, pay later. I mean, that’s become a really popular thing at the point of sale. You go in and they let you buy it now and you can figure out how to pay for it later. But those are popular items, but they can be challenging as well, for a consumer. So, how do you see that working from, when you think about consumer reports and things of that nature?

Rod Griffin:  It’s the Wild Wild West right now. There are a number of companies that provide the service. They all do it a little bit differently. From a credit reporting standpoint, we’re not all in agreement as to how it should be reported or managed. And so, we’re trying to figure that out. There’s no regulation, there’s no consistency. And that creates all sorts of challenges, because you might have, they say pay it in four. So, you get four separate payments. It might be in one payment a week, it could be one payment every two weeks. It could be four payments over six months if it’s a bigger purchase. The way that they would report the information, there’s discussion, should it be like a revolving account? Which is a big industry word for a credit card type, you could carry the balance. Should it be installment loan?

I can tell you from an insider perspective, what we’ve seen in the research, I was just on a call, we’ve looked at about 130 million different consumers who have had BNPL and looked at what it would do to scores. And thus far, they do not help scores, it almost always hurt them, at least initially. And it’s largely because they don’t fit into the traditional credit reporting system and the way that things are reported. And so, our initial response experience, we’re creating a separate database for BNPL, so that when things catch up, we can incorporate it, but you can still see what people are doing and the debts that are being paid, or not.

The thing that we are seeing is that, that’s frightening to me, is something called debt stacking. So, one pair of shoes that you’re paying for with four payments isn’t too bad, except shoes can be really expensive. If you have 20 pairs of shoes that you’re paying with BNPL, you have a much larger debt. And we’re seeing people who are, if they have one BNPL loan, they have five. And so, those little debts add up and that can affect your ability to repay other things and they can sneak up on you, because it’s really easy to do. And that’s the concern I have, is that people will not realize that suddenly they have to make payments on a whole bunch of BNPL loans and had just suddenly realized that, because you can take on BNPL loans at four different companies and six different online sales sites in a day. It’s crazy.

Steve Bucci:  Yeah. Sure.

Melyssa Barrett:  Let me go to Steve then, to give us his response.

Steve Bucci:  Oh, because you could tell I was getting excited. Yes. The buy now, pay later, has been around a lot, but it’s on steroids now. You can do it everywhere. And this is the joy of having someone like Rod and someone like you, and someone like me together, is you not only get the technical piece from Rod, what does it mean? Should it be reported this way or should it be reported that way? But for me, you’re going to get, does it fit into your goal? Does it fit into your budget? I mean, you’ve got so much money and that’s all. You can’t spend more … Well, you can spend more than you have, but you’re going to have a problem later on.

So, if you only have an extra $50 a month or $100 a month after your basic living expenses and the other things you’ve got to pay down, and you take on the buy now, pay later loans. If it’s more than that, you’re not going to be able to make it. So, you understanding that you only have so much money, because you’ve done your budget, you understand that the money you’re saving is for goals, long-term or short-term, midterm goals that you want to achieve, that you really, really, really want. So, do you really want to take PayPal up and pay for this thing on four installment payments, when maybe you could just either A, pay it off or B, buy it another time and not have the loan?

And so, if you’re in charge, if you understand what tools you’ve got to work with, if you understand how it’s going to be reported and how it’s going to reflect on you in the future, you make the smart choice. You’re not driven to it. It’s not going to surprise you in the end. And knowing what you can afford, basic, but key. The rest follows.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Steve Bucci:  Reports follow, the technical stuff follows, the credit scoring follows, the repairing follows, but it all follows the basic understanding what you want, understanding what you’ve got to work with, and then understanding how to use the tools.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. And I think that’s what’s so key is, I mean, there are some resources in the Credit Repair Kit For Dummies that they can access through the Wiley brand or on the website. And to me it’s like, just start small, right? Just focus on what your goals are and then figure out what you have. And then it’s small pieces of discipline, where you just decide to not buy those shoes today and try that more than one time.

Steve Bucci:  And I can’t stress how important it is that nothing is too small. “Oh, I can’t do this. I don’t have any money. I’m barely making ends meet.” Well, if you’re making ends meet, you can do it. You can put a little bit. “But it’s not enough.” Yes, it is enough. You start small and you will be just astonished in how it will grow and how it will change and how you will soon start to have more than you thought you possibly ever could.

Sometimes you may need to take a step back and go sideways, but again, with the budget, with the goals and with saving, putting that money aside, building your nest egg, building your emergency savings account, all this stuff is basic, but little, little, little, little, tiny little steps are all you need to do to get started, and it will make you successful.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah, I think it’s-

Steve Bucci:  It’s very exciting when you realize how little you need to really make it work.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah. That’s a great point. Yeah. We often hear the, “Put aside one cup of coffee a day or a week.” And I saw some pushback saying, “That doesn’t help you get anywhere.” And you may not see it initially in the payments, but it’s also about building a habit.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right.

Rod Griffin:  And when you start there and that habit starts to build and it makes it easier to do it for something that’s larger, and that’s the mindset shift that’s hard to get to. But people will say, “Well, I’m not going to pay off my house if I just don’t drink one cup of coffee.” Not directly, but it starts that habit and that behavior that’s going to help you make bigger changes over time.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I think that’s a great point because when we talk about mindset, there are systemic patterns that people pull in from their own families that sometimes they don’t even know they have, right? So, a lot of times it does take some real focus on the mindset for you to break out and go, “You know what? I don’t have to have the same issues that my parents did.” Or, whatever. So, those are great points, great points.

Rod Griffin:  I love that you mentioned parents and I tell personal stories, I love my parents dearly, but when you talk about, should you learn about credit from home or finance from home? And I always told people, my parents had differing opinions on credit. My mom thought credit was a gift from God. My dad thought it was evil. And so, it took me a long time to figure out, it’s really neither one of those things. It’s a tool that’s in the middle. If you use it well, it’s a good tool. If not, it could be a problem. But it’s neither one of those things. So, you think about where you learn about finance and it does influence you in a lot of ways.

Melyssa Barrett:  Definitely.

Steve Bucci:  And sometimes families can be just the opposite. They are, “You’ve got a place. You’re not supposed to know about this stuff. You’re supposed to listen to me.” And if you get too successful, it’s a challenge. Some folks in your family may be jealous, they may not like it, they may say, “Well, it makes me look bad because he’s doing so well.” And if you do really well, people may want to piggyback on you, for better or for worse. Not that having four generations living in the same house is a bad thing, it can be a really good thing and a rich thing, but on the right terms.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s a head nod to me and my four generations living in the house.

Steve Bucci:  I’m teasing Melyssa at this point. But it is true, you talk about this cup of coffee’s not going to pay off your mortgage. It’s not, if you’ve got a mortgage. If you don’t have a mortgage and you’re in a rental place and you can barely pay the rent, saving a cup of coffee a week can be life and death in the long term. It can keep you in that place. When a little thing happens, you’ll be able to deal with it and it won’t be a catastrophe. Because you live close to the edge, it doesn’t take much to push you over that edge.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s right.

Steve Bucci:  Cup of coffee a day, saving that money moves you back from the edge. It gives you ground to stand on.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Rod Griffin:  Quite a bit depending on where you’re getting your coffee, potentially.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s true. These days coffee can be quite expensive.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah. There you go.

Steve Bucci:  Yes. Melyssa, you haven’t said much. Come on, Melyssa, you got to talk some.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh no. It’s so funny to me because I mean, I could talk a lot, a lot, and people hear me a lot, but this is my fabulous opportunity to hear from you all. I can always do a specific podcast that just lets me talk, but this is my chance to hear from you all. So, hopefully people can hear about not only the passion that I think all of us have really toward helping people everywhere. And you’ve even done stuff for debt in Australia, and I mean, there’s so much knowledge that sits here when you talk about how to manage and become financially healthy, I just want to take the opportunity to pick you all’s brain.

Steve Bucci:  Well, I don’t want to let this end without talking about your favorite topic, which is of course, inclusion.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Steve Bucci:  And looking at the credit system, it’s too easy to say, “It’s stacked against me. You don’t want to give me a loan. And everything is working against me because I’m a minority, because I don’t speak English well, because I’m new to this country.” And it’s just not so.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. And I think-

Steve Bucci:  There are people who think like that, but the system is not like that. The credit reporting system is not like … It is completely blind. Rod, you should talk about that, not me. But there is none of that in reporting.

Rod Griffin:  Yeah, I mean, I agree to a point. I mean, there are still issues that we need to address. I mean, we’re not perfect. And access is a huge issue. I talk to our folks about the element of trust too, because we haven’t been visible in communities. And that’s really one of the things I’m proud of at Experian is that we are actively looking for ways to help communities who have been excluded from the system through not necessarily any action on our part, but because we haven’t been proactive. So, how do we find ways to open that door? How do we find ways to reach people?

And Melyssa, you touched on it, culturally, and I have lots of conversations with lots of my colleagues and mentors and with our own business people about, in a lot of the communities trust isn’t built through an app. We need to have a human connection. And that means partners like the two of you. It means working with organizations like Operation Hope. It means working with local community organizations, because people have different ways of gathering information, they have different ways of working together, different cultural realities.

Being in Texas, we see a lot of people that in South Texas, there’s a great distrust of the banking system and it’s rooted in good reasons in the past. But to overcome that, we have to find ways to include that information. So, we work with an organization called Mission Asset Fund and have for a number of years, they create tandas, which are lending circles. So, people are able to put money in a pool and they borrow from that pool and then pay it back. And we then coordinate with Credit Builders Alliance and them to report that information.

So, to me, it’s an issue of understanding and listening to people and understanding those cultures and realities, and finding ways to tap into those cultures to make our business better and to help include people. We are data driven, so it’s objective in that sense, but helping people gain the trust and to understand that we’re human too. I tell people, “I’m a country kid from Kansas, and so, knew nothing about credit until I started working at Experian 25 years ago.” And I still learn every day. And so it’s, how do we connect with people? And how do we have the right partners? And how do we have the right relationships to earn the trust and to get the right information to people? Because-

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and I think it’s so interesting though, because when you talk about people that don’t have the access, we’re really talking about what we call the unbanked population. And in some cases you may be unbanked, meaning you don’t have a bank account or a savings or checking account, or an affordable one anyway. And I think what’s interesting is when we talk about credit reporting and how you want to get certain information into the consumer report, so that it can work for you. But on the other hand, you have this financial health component where you want to make sure you’re not taking on debt, but that you have information in there that gives a lender information about you in the event you want to borrow.

And so, there’s this push-pull between the trust you’re talking about is like, “Why should I give all my information? What’s going to happen to my information?” And so, there’s a benefit to having information in there, speaking as a person of color, there’s a benefit that you can get. But again, going back to Steve’s, “What are your financial goals and how do you make sure that it’s working for you?” And so, I think a lot of that just really depends on getting information out there, accurate information out there, about how your credit score is created, what’s the benefit of it? And even if you’ve had some challenges, I mean, now you can actually turn your credit score around fairly quickly. I mean, I’m actually shocked at how quickly you can actually turn things around if you just start doing the right things, paying more things on time, and reducing your credit.

I mean, I think you guys, the consumer reporting agencies have provided a lot more transparency around how the scores are created and made. And I think that’s the type of information people need to know, so they can make the right decisions, instead of just loading up on debt. Especially if they’re in college, they might get targeted for different credit cards and this, that and the other, but you want to make the right decisions for you. So, I think it’s awesome.

I know we’re running up against time. I don’t want this to be the last time we chat. Hopefully we can come together again, maybe we can either get a couple of other folks to join us and really just spend some time talking more about financial education, how to become financially healthy and stay that way. Because I think at the end of the day, I know all of our passions are around helping people to live the life they really desire. So, last words from you gentlemen.

Steve Bucci:  Melyssa, thank you so much for having us-

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, it’s my pleasure.

Steve Bucci:  … and letting us have access to your huge audience of viewers out there and listeners. And hopefully, as you say, this may get people to ask a question, to take a look at some information, and to feel that they can be in charge.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Steve Bucci:  It’s their choice.

Rod Griffin:  And I’ll double down-

Melyssa Barrett:  Go ahead, Rob.

Rod Griffin:  Just want to say, I’m going to double down with the thanks, Melyssa, for having us in the conversation. And get the book. And on my part, one of the agreements I have with Experian is I can’t be paid to do the book. So, anything, any, whatever they call it, royalties that come my way are being donated to financial literacy charities. So, we want to make sure that it’s helping people and the one thing-

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s a great point. Yeah. And I know my royalties go over to BALANCE, they’re a nonprofit credit counseling, smart money coaching company as well. So, we want to make sure that we have information out there that’s accurate, that will help you all, but we want to continue to help others as well. And so, we are so grateful for the opportunity to talk to you all and I just cannot thank you guys enough for joining me for this wonderful conversation.

Steve Bucci:  Thank you.

Rod Griffin:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.