Steven grew up in a household where finances were tight and where family members didn’t talk much about credit. “I didn’t really know what credit was,” says Steven, “and I don’t think my story is unique. Not just among Chicagoans, but among low-income households in general. I only understood credit based off of what I came across, and often that was predatory lending that targeted minorities.” In fact, prior to being introduced to Working Credit through City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), Steven didn’t think he could improve his credit. In addition to outstanding debt he owed to CCC, he had also incurred a lot of medical debt as a result of bad circumstances and according to him, “maybe some wrong choices that I didn’t understand [the implications of] in the moment.” He had found himself in a financial hole, with any money he made going to cover living expenses.

As a result, Steven was initially hesitant to meet with a Working Credit counselor, which is required for students like him who wish to have their student debt forgiven through CCC’s Fresh Start Student Debt Forgiveness Program (students are also required to first attend Working Credit’s signature credit building workshop). Now he sees this as “…very appropriately like a second chance.”

“I never thought I could dig myself out because of the obstacles in my way. I thought it was for life. But Niki [Steven’s Working Credit counselor] pointed out so many ways I could do so and bounce back. I didn’t know there were people who were there to just help.”

“Working Credit taught me how to fight back: how having good credit could lower my expenses, how to dispute errors on my credit report, how I could borrow without becoming indebted, what a credit line is and the importance of paying it on time.” Equally important, Steven’s experience with Working Credit “pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me shake the stigma that comes with not understanding the system and feeling scammed by it.”

“There are tons of people just like me who don’t know that they can do things differently, who might have debt and feel ashamed. I want to get my personal story out there to help turn around any reluctance to seek help so people can see how good credit can propel them forward. ”

In addition to tackling his debt, Steven has established savings and is helping his sister and mother to become more “financially literate and independent.” Asked what he would say to his younger self about his credit journey, Steven advised, “Learn the rules of credit and don’t let them intimidate you. It’s possible.”