“Does anyone know someone who struggled to rent an apartment? To get a car loan under 20%? To get a mortgage?” Working Credit‘s Niki Volz, asked the crowd of Harvard University dining services workers gathered one morning in early 2015 for a semi-annual workplace training.
Hands went up in response to her questions—plenty of participants struggle with these issues, and they are not alone. Over a third of all Americans have a credit score under 600, which can inflate their expenses, deplete their paychecks, and make them vulnerable to unfairly high rates of interest and predatory lending practices. As Volz continued, audience members put down their coffee cups; many sat up in their seats. She had their attention.
“Just paying your rent or cable on time doesn’t change your credit score,” she said. “Credit has everything to do with how you manage your credit card bills and installment loans. Credit is not something to be afraid of, it’s a financial tool anyone can access with the right information.”
While Harvard University offers a variety of services free of charge to their workers, including ESL, citizenship, and computer classes, this was their first year piloting our Credit Wellness Program. It begins with a credit-building workshop in the workplace for all employees and continues, for those who want it, with one-on-one credit building counseling lasting up to two years, and access to CW-3, our credit building product that reports to the major credit bureaus. Of the over 125 dining service employees who attended the initial workshop, 77% signed up for one-on-one counseling, with equal interest from both workers and management.
Fast forward 18 months and 82% of participants served by Working Credit improved their credit score. More importantly, after receiving this education, employees wanted their children and spouses to have access to the pilot, particularly children turning eighteen—either those entering college or the workforce—and applying for their first credit cards. “The whole experience from beginning to end was phenomenal,” said one dining service manager. “I learned how to manage my credit and my score just keeps going up.”
Harvard University Campus Services will continue the pilot in January 2017, opening it up to 350 custodians who wanted access to the Program after hearing from dining service workers about their positive experience.
Working Credit is grateful to Harvard University Employees Credit Union for underwriting the first year of the Credit Wellness program and offering the CW-3 secured loan and savings product to the first cohort of participants.