Credit workshop aims to improve state’s fiscal health

By Susan Collins-Smith

MSU Extension Service

Half of Mississippians have lower credit scores than the average American, with Jackson area residents having the second lowest average score in the U.S., according to a national credit monitoring agency.

A recent workshop and new organization, both directed by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, aim to help individuals improve their financial health through responsible credit use.

“Good credit is a key financial asset for growth of local economies across Mississippi,” said Becky Smith, Extension family financial management specialist. “Individuals with good credit will pay lower interest rates, saving families and businesses significant amounts of money. Good credit results in lower car insurance rates, limits security deposits on cell phones and utilities, as well as improves chances of being able to buy or rent a house and even land a job.”

Extension teamed up with Experian and Credit Builders Alliance to offer a two-day, interactive workshop to help educators and nonprofit professionals understand credit-building practices and how to work with their clients in more successful ways. Lenders, financial coaches, Extension agents, bank personnel, credit union employees, and community nonprofit organization staff members learned about positive credit building and how to help underserved consumers understand, attain and use credit.

The workshop served as the kickoff event for the formation of the Financial Wellness Network of Mississippi, an organization directed by Extension.

About 75 workshop participants learned about the importance of good credit and the value of credit reports to help them better educate consumers and guide them to building good credit. They also got instruction on educating consumers about responsible financial products, measuring client outcomes and answering consumer questions.

Evelyn Edwards, a community development grant specialist and mid-Mississippi division Community Reinvestment Act specialist with BancorpSouth, has done volunteer work with female inmates for 17 years.

“I do a financial boot camp at the Rankin County Correctional Facility, and I came today to gain some insight on what’s new in credit building and how I can apply the information in the boot camp,” Edwards said. “I help walk these women through the steps to clean up their credit if they need to before they re-enter society. I teach them best practices for general financial health and prepare them to be responsible credit consumers once they are released. I want to give these women all of the available tools to help them be successful citizens, and trainings like this help me do that.”

Smith said the event will help educators in communities communicate with individuals who want to improve their credit and financial health.

“Many individuals lack the knowledge they need to build good credit and can get into a negative cycle of debt if they don’t understand how to manage credit,” she said. “The goal of the new Financial Wellness Network is to offer support and continuing education opportunities to the people and organizations in communities who work with clientele in search of these services.”

To join the Financial Wellness Network, contact Smith at 662-325-2750.