I could have really used Ebony Cochran's help a few months ago. I had opened my mail to find a letter from a collection agency saying I owed several hundred dollars for an unpaid speeding ticket in Ohio from 2012. I scanned my memory for a forgotten joyride or drag race in Akron, but remembering none, I set out to clear my name. A few anxious phone calls later, I learned that a lead-footed Ohioan with the same name as me was the culprit, and the letter could be disregarded as could the thumping in my chest.
Cochran, a DYP member and owner of Blackwood Credit Services in Southfield, specializes in fixing credit-hostaging situations like mine. After going on a credit recovery of her own, she now helps individuals and small businesses strategically pay off the financial holes they've dug and educate themselves on what their credit report means and why it's important. She keeps arunning tally of success stories on Instagram.
“When someone buys a home because their credit is fixed, that feels like my home," she said. "We’re doing this together.”
Here are some common problems Cochran comes across, and her advice to deal with them intelligently.
You can't be afraid to talk to someone when you're having trouble.
Cochran is disarmingly upfront that her low-point credit score was 486, which would have been in the worst 5% nationally. "People are still kind of ashamed to talk about it, but it’s about where you are today," Cochran said. "I was on welfare 12 years ago, but I'm not anymore, so you can’t say anything about it today. At the time, I thought that would never change and that number would define me. Life isn’t over because you can’t get that mortgage. There is life after being denied.”
Actually, talk to someone BEFORE you're having trouble.
“I have people come to me and say, 'I need help - my lease is up in two months.’" Cochran said. "But you knew that 10 months ago when you signed it! Why are you coming in with 60 days left? Let me get you prepared before that day comes. Already being ready stops you from coming in and stressing us both out."
Not understanding credit doesn't mean you're dumb.
“It’s a money-maker - that’s why insurance companies and banks have the biggest buildings, because we’re paying for it," Cochran said. "It’s not that people are dumb. It’s just that no one ever trained them." Cochran's daughter is 11 now, and "she could tell you all about APR rates," Cochran said. "I’m instilling it in her early so it’s second nature."
Cash is not always king (or queen).
Early in her credit recovery, Cochran, who is black, was furious when she got rejected for a condo in favor of an older white applicant. Cochran thought she had been stereotyped by the white landlord.
“Maybe the landlord saw it on my face,” she said. “The guy told me, ‘I know what you’re thinking, but she has better credit.’”
Cochran doubled down, offering to pay an entire year of rent upfront – almost $15,000. Still the landlord refused, saying the other person’s credit showed character and reliability that the money would be there on time every month. It was a turning point for Cochran.
“What could I even say to that?”
The solutions are often really simple.
One of Cochran's early missteps was paying off a years-old debt, which did square it up but also triggered years of late notices which temporarily drove her score down 70 points. That's the kind of mistake that can only be avoided with the right knowledge. Now she advises people on tools as simple as registering for automatic payment of their bills and keeping a detailed log of their spending.
“That drives people insane," Cochran said, "but I need you to see that you spend $500 at McDonald’s, so when you say you can’t pay a bill, I can say, well - McDonald’s has it.”
Fixing your credit problems is an investment in yourself.
"What better person to take a chance on than yourself?" Cochran said. "The best return I’ve got hasn’t been on stocks, it’s been on me."
Find more on Cochran online at Blackwood Credit Services.
Tom Keller is a member of the DYP Communications Team. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.