Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Financial coaching helps couple achieve American Dream

Jennifer and Stacy Black in front of the home they purchased in June.
Two years ago, Stacy and Jennifer Black had more than $35,000 in debt, past due medical bills and credit scores that mainstream lenders wouldn’t want to touch.

Today, the Blacks are proud homeowners thanks to two keys: financial coaching from Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s Member Development Director Candy Craig, and their own discipline in following Craig’s guidance. And they’re sold on financial coaching, even though the process is difficult.

“Whatever goal you have that’s brought you in to start the process, make sure the reason you’re doing it is strong enough to keep you going,” Jennifer said from the kitchen of her three-bedroom home in Fall Branch, Tenn. “Because it’s gonna be hard. It is gonna be hard.”

Jennifer had her reason. “Once I had my kids, I didn’t know how long it was going to take, but I wanted to leave them something so they’d be able to pass it on to their kids,” Jennifer said.

ACFCU Member Development Director
Candy Craig helped the Blacks on their
path to homeownership.
On Labor Day, late morning sun beamed brightly through the kitchen window of the Blacks’ home. A day earlier the couple – for the first time in 22 years of marriage – had hosted a holiday gathering at a place they can truly call their own. Sons Sean, 22, and Cody, 19, and Sean’s girlfriend had enjoyed grilled steaks while the couple’s four dogs ran around the yard.

In 2016, after a rent-to-own effort went south, Jennifer checked into Eastern Eight Community Development Corp. hoping the couple might be eligible to buy. An agency representative told the Blacks they probably needed some financial counseling and recommended ACFCU and Craig.

“We were living paycheck to paycheck, and it was like, ‘do I feed the kids or do I pay a bill,’” Jennifer said. “We were barely getting by.”

Craig, who became a mentor and advocate as well as a coach, saw hope. The Blacks had decent income but they needed guidance.

The beginning of the process wasn’t easy. “I had a box of bills that were mismatched,” Jennifer remembered. “We were probably here about three hours going through my stuff, because I was very mismatched and disorganized.”

Stacy said Jennifer seemed overwhelmed after some coaching sessions. Like Jennifer’s focus on their sons, though, Stacy had a strong motivation. “I wanted my wife to have her own house,” he said. “Her own kitchen that she could be proud of. I knew she deserved it, and she’s a beautiful woman. She works hard. I made sure this was something I would not fail on.”

Craig helped the Blacks work through a complex array of issues, but budgeting was the bedrock for their ultimate success.

“There were times when money was tight but together we stayed with the game plan,” Stacy said. “We didn’t go in making excuses as to why we couldn’t do something, we just did it.”

Once budget discipline was established, the couple added a small revolving credit card and began using it wisely so that it raised, rather than lowered their credit scores. “We didn’t consolidate, we didn’t get extra loans – we paid everything through our own savings,” Jennifer said.

In February, they took their nearly $3,000 tax refund to Craig’s office, called some creditors and cleared the last debts that were keeping them from qualifying for a mortgage. The process had taken 18 months at that point. The Blacks closed on their home in June. Jennifer said her credit score continues to increase and she said her new goal is to pay the house off early.

And coach Candy? She’s not out of the picture by any means, Jennifer said. “We bought the house and Candy reached out to me and was like, ‘we need a new budget.’”

 (Jeff Keeling is vice president of communications and community relations for Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union.)

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