An open letter from a millennial Credit Union employee to millennials outside the industry
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Two short years ago, in a blurry post-grad bubble, my finances were a hot mess with no sign of cooling down. I had both hands full of credit cards with thousands of dollars charged to them that I refused to think about beyond the minimum payment that haunted my inbox at the end of every month. I had nothing saved. My idea of financial planning was hitting up the grocery store when it was necessary (i.e. if none of my friends were free for dinner and margs), then crossing my fingers as I checked my account balance after buying instant ramen and Two Buck Chuck. I had made no dents in my student loans in the years following graduation. If someone told me I would soon be getting a job at a financial institution, I would have cackled and maybe cried. I honestly would not have thought of myself as a good fit for a multitude of reasons, one being that I had recently decided to close my savings account because I wasn’t using it. True Story.
Alas, Smart Financial took a chance on me and, boy-oh-boy, I am ridiculously thrilled (and shocked) that they did. I love working here for so many reasons, but most of all, it spoke volumes that my coworkers helped me do what they do best; get my money stuff figured out. I refinanced my car which, aside from getting me a better rate, put some money in my pocket to go toward my debt. I cut up the credit cards that weren’t serving me well with scissors lovingly given to me (in a figurative sense) by my colleagues. Most importantly, I consolidated my loans. This sounded counter-intuitive to me when the suggestion was made. Why would I take out a loan and owe money to another establishment when I already owed to many? Wasn’t money borrowing something that people did as a last resort? The biggest question surrounding this idea was one that I kept to myself; was I a failure?
After my coworker offered a brief and gentle explanation of debt consolidation, I asked one of our loan officers to crunch the numbers. The total monthly amount that I was struggling to pay was cut in HALF and consolidated into only one cute monthly payment instead of the ugly six. The term of my loan was a fraction of how long it would have taken me to pay off my credit cards which carried rates as high as twenty-seven percent. I realized that the minimum payment on my credit cards was essentially doing nothing but paying the interest charges. To be honest, I had never taken the time to look at my rates because I was in complete denial. Was I really just tossing my money away before this moment of financial enlightenment? Pretty much.
Why do I share all of this to you, my beautiful, bright, open-minded peers? We weren’t taught how to handle this sh*t, and I know that firsthand. I want to share what I’ve learned from literally being forced to learn on the job. We are the highest educated demographic in history, and yet we are drowning in debt. Yes, the reasons for the very real debt crisis are many (hello, student loans!), but I can say from personal experience that the education and tools to see over your big, scary snowball of debt are at arm’s reach. For me, that education came from the kind people at my credit union who had the knowledge and wherewithal to hold my hand and climb with me.
Now you’re probably thinking “cool story, sis, but aren’t you being paid to tell me how awesome your workplace is?” Actually, no. I’m not technically on the marketing team, so this one’s on the house. And, honestly, I have a lot of friends who are getting ready to make some huge moves financially (home buying, law school, cross country moves) and some who are in the same situation that I was in. I can also say that writing this has been cathartic…and a little self-congratulatory. I am proud of where I am now! The awareness that inspired this letter was a long time coming.
I took to the streets to ask my friends about their relationship (or lack thereof) with their financial institutions and their attitudes surrounding their finances. After a conversation or two over dinner and via email, here’s a tasting of what I gathered.
We are navigating some new territory and, I’ll say it, it is hard. While we’re all out here trying to figure out what we are doing with our lives in the age of the social media influencer, we are aggressively targeted by #sponsoredcontent from people cooler than us representing ~brands~ with perfectly ironic copy and beautifully curated feeds selling us a lifestyle we can’t afford because our student loans simply won’t allow it any time soon. Our parents had a house and kids at our age and we’ll never hear the end of it because, shocker, we can’t afford that either. Put it all together and whadyaget? An honest to goodness Hard Time. But I don’t need to tell you that because you’re living it.
So let’s do this: let’s talk about our money. Let’s tell our friend that we can’t pay twenty bucks to go to yoga class because we have to meet our savings goal. Let’s be open about it so that those close to us will feel safe enough to let us know when they need help too. Let’s stop dragging our feet out of laziness, or pride, or whatever it is, and talk to a financial professional about how the heck we’re gonna get on top of it. I have a very, very long road ahead of me. But at least I was able to hitch a ride to financial sanity. You can too. Stick your thumb out and ask for help.