By Gary Williams, President & CEO of Unity One Credit Union
Pictured left: Gary at a young age. Ready to tackle the world.
I read an article recently entitled “Millenials are Slackers? No – They’re Just Struggling and Scared”. As I look back to the year 1977 when I became an adult (at least by the legal definition), I think this article captured my feelings at the time exactly. I was about to enter my last year in college, I still wasn’t sure of my career path and I was about to be thrown out into the cold, cruel reality of life on my own. At the time I was still totally dependent upon my parents for everything. They paid my tuition, housing, insurance and took care of all of my needs. But in just two short years I would be married, looking for my first “real” job and trying to figure out how to pay for all of these things on my own. I was struggling and scared.
So what advice would I give myself if I had a chance to press the Do-Over button?
#1: Learn Everything About Personal Finance Before You Really Need It
Like most kids, the only thing I knew about handling finances I learned from my parents. And frankly, I didn’t learn much. When I was faced with finding a place to live, paying for everything on my own and launching a career – I had no idea about all of the many decisions and choices I had to make. If I had a better understanding of what I would face and what I needed to know, I think I would have made better choices and avoided a lot of the mistakes that set me back as I was getting started. So, young Gary – read up on budgeting, how to build credit, investing for the future, shopping for insurance, housing and taxes. Be better prepared as you have to make those decisions and set priorities.
#2: Build and Maintain An Excellent Credit Rating
Let’s face it, unless you are fortunate enough to land a high-paying job right out of school, most of us live from paycheck to paycheck in our early years. Unfortunately, most paychecks don’t leave us much to cover emergencies or to buy needed big-ticket items such as cars, furniture, appliances or a vacation. Without credit, most people would never be able to purchase those necessities of life. So, I would tell my younger self to have Dad co-sign for a car loan or credit card so I could build some credit and learn how to manage credit. But I would also warn young Gary to use credit wisely, don’t get over-indebted and to always pay my debts on time. A good credit score is a precious commodity that will always provide avenues for obtaining a loan when you really need it.
#3: Join A Credit Union
Yes, I’m a little biased – but I can truly say that one of the wisest decisions I did make early in life was to open an account at a credit union. Not only have I saved thousands of dollars over the years on lower fees and better loan rates, but I always felt like I was part of a family rather than just a faceless account number at the big banks. My first credit union was willing to take a chance on me for my first car loan. I also received a lot of my early personal finance lessons from the credit union. Now, I would tell young Gary to open an account at Unity One because of the wonderful Lifeline account that we offer which combines financial education with the basic accounts needed to get started in life – a savings account, checking account and credit card. Plus, I would know that young Gary would get a better deal throughout his life with a credit union than he would ever get with a big bank.
So take my advice young Gary, and you’ll struggle less and have no reason to be scared about your future.