Building Financial Literacy

By Bubba Grimsley, CEO, Liberty Rent Guarantee

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues circulated a Ted Talk about “why” we do what we do. You can watch it here:

https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

After watching it, I began thinking about “why,” and it inspired me to write this blog.

A lot of people have asked us why we started Liberty Rent Guarantee. While I have discussed the way the company came about, I have never discussed WHY we came about. When I was first introduced to the concept of co-signing residential leases, it immediately struck me that this is a much needed product in the market because of my own personal experience early in life.

When I went off to college in the mid-1980s, I was a first generation college student.   No one in my family before me had attended college. My parents had little advice, except that I needed to go. Aside from college itself, the experience of being “on my own” was totally new to me, and I was not prepared for that either.

I recall my first credit card. Freshman year the credit card companies were all over campus, and they were pushing cards at anyone with a pulse. I had a pulse. I got a card. No explanations, no instruction manual—just a credit card. It was a gas card. I needed gas, right? Perfect. What could be better?

Little did I know, or understand, that the gas company wanted to be paid in full… every month. That wasn’t exactly my understanding, but I got the hang of that pretty quickly after some penalties and late fees that took my breath away.

My next experience was with an apartment. After a year of dorm living, two buddies and I decided we should get an apartment. I got to town before everyone else, and found us a very nice apartment. Not thinking about anything other than having a place to live, I signed a lease in my name only. The short story is that we got evicted before we ever moved in (another story for another time). The apartment manager was less than kind, and tried to keep our deposit for “damages.” As I said, we hadn’t even moved in yet, so I refused to pay the final bill. I felt that the actions of the apartment manager were less than fair, and I was basically going to thumb my nose at their nasty behavior.

Guess what happened next? They put a nasty little note on my credit report—one that basically said I was a bad dude and don’t rent to this guy because he owes us money. The apartment complex didn’t sue me to collect the money, so there was no chance to tell “my side of the story.” I just limped around for the next couple of years wondering why every time I tried to rent an apartment, the answer was NO.

Eventually, I went to work for a law firm, as a runner. I was in my senior year.   As it turned out, the firm represented the apartment complex. When I started talking to one of the attorneys in the firm, he walked me through credit, how it works, how it doesn’t, and how if you get “reported” life gets real hard. He helped me clean up my report, and start again.

After I finished law school, I found myself drawn more and more to doing consumer work, where I was helping clients who had problems similar to my own experience.   What I learned through the years is that there are a lot of people in this country that don’t understand how credit reporting works, and how it can affect their lives.

Liberty Rent Guarantee is not just a second chance for many people who find trouble renting a safe home in a neighborhood they want to live in. Liberty Rent Guarantee, I hope, is a second chance for people to hit the reset button on their credit life, and see if they can improve on it.

Through our relationships with Lexington Law (https://www.lexingtonlaw.com ), the Nations premiere credit repair law firm and GreenPath (http://www.greenpath.com ), the best 501©3 I have been able to find, we hope to teach our clients financial literacy. We believe that we are accomplishing our mission to help our people learn more about the wise use of credit.

I’m guessing that most people assume paying their rent on time helps them build credit? Not really. Most apartment communities do not report your “good payment history” as part of credit reporting. We are changing that. We are making strides in reporting your “good payments” of rent to the credit reporting agencies, so that by paying your rent on time, you help to build your credit. Reporting “good payments of rent” is not an industry standard. This is another change we hope to affect, for our clients.

My dream is that one day, we would teach everyone financial literacy and that kids going out on their own for the first time have a good financial foundation. Until that day arrives, I hope that Liberty Rent Guarantee is here, helping those who have fumbled through it the first time (like I did) and finding a way to rebound. We want to give a hand up, not a hand-out, to those who want to learn more about how finance works, and how it affects their lives.