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A company turns millions in profits bringing call-center jobs to Black communities

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Taylor Pride considered a viable job opportunity in her distressed Dallas neighborhood “too good to be true.”

It did not make sense to her that a company would set up a call center in the nearly desolate former Red Bird Mall (now Southwest Center Mall), and employ 500 residents from the community.

Pride, 26 and a mother of four, said she was skeptical of a company coming to an area that had been written off and labeled as having “no future.” But, she said, Chime Solutions paid a respectable wage and “took off the gloves, dug down in the dirt and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to pull y’all out of this.’”

“They could have gone anywhere with their business,” she said. “But they came here because these are the people who need the most help.”

Pride, who was hired by the company, is one of several that crystalize the ideals of Chime Solutions, a Black-owned company that provides outsourcing services for small businesses as well as some Fortune 500 companies.

Taylor Pride said her life has changed since joining Chime Solutions in Dallas.Courtesy Chime Solutions, Inc.

It is the brainchild of president and CEO Mark Wilson, who has more than 25 years of success in business information and call center services. He also led and eventually acquired eVerifile, an online contractor screening company.

“Our primary focus is to address the issue of economic mobility, creating opportunities in underresourced communities,” Wilson said.

To achieve that, Wilson set a goal of creating 10,000 jobs across 10 cities — all in communities with a significant Black population. Based in metro Atlanta, he started his mission by using the former J.C. Penney space at Southlake Mall, just outside the city, to open a 115,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art call center.

Chime employs 1,500 people there, an overwhelming number of them Black and most from Clayton County, where the company had been expected to generate about $87 million in sales per year in 2016. The site also creates another 300 indirect jobs and benefits neighboring businesses, too, according to a University of Georgia economist who analyzed Chime’s economic impact for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Southlake Mall was going to fail,” Omar Hawk, Chime’s vice president of operations in Georgia, said. “Now, the mall is thriving. Chime’s presence has revitalized that area.”

Shelly Wilson is a microbiologist-turned Chime COO as well as Mark Wilson’s wife. The couple started a customer service and outsourcing business, RYLA Teleservices, out of the basement of their home and eventually sold the business in 2010 for a reported $70 million. With Chime, their goal is to bring jobs to Black communities.

“There is so much talent that gets left behind,” Wilson added. “In Clayton County, for instance, there’s no public transportation to speak of, no industry. So our thought was to bring the jobs to the people.”

The economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has also had an outsize effect on Black Americans, particularly women. He said a predominant number of Chime workers are single mothers who have been devastated by job losses during the COVID-19 economic crush.

The model is the same in Dallas and Charlotte, North Carolina, where Wilson recently employed 250 workers in an underserved community, with plans for more hires. Next up are Baltimore and Detroit, he said. Five other cities will be added over time, with the goal of 1,000 jobs created per city for those living in underserved communities.

“There is a lot to what we are trying to accomplish,” Wilson said. “We’re doing business as a Black-owned company, creating jobs for Blacks. Using the multiplier effect, meaning for every job you create, another is created. And it is money spent in the community.”

He added that one of the company’s goals is to help “eat away” at systemic income and wealth gaps. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, the median Black family, with slightly over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the median white family, with $147,000.

Hawk began working with Wilson as a customer service representative with RYLA after graduating from Morehouse College in 2001. He worked his way up to an executive level, a fact that Hawk said makes their model special for employees.

“The passion of helping people is attractive,” Hawk said. “With Chime, as time grows, you have a chance to grow. They want you to have a career here, not just a job at a call center.”

The plan has worked for Jennifer Blackmon. She was employed at Zaxby’s, the fast-foot chain, when she spotted a Chime employee wearing the company lanyard at the drive-thru.

Blackmon, now a quality manager at the Atlanta-area location, said she has been impressed with an office culture that encourages a family feel, even as they have been working remotely through the pandemic.

“I knocked on Mr. Wilson’s door one day and brought my credit report to him,” she said. “I asked, ‘You think I could buy a house?’ He told me I could, but there were some things I needed to work on.”

From that conversation, Wilson created home-buying and credit repair seminars for his employees.

“I took those classes, worked on those things and here I am, one-and-a half years later, a homeowner,” Blackmon said.

Mason Parker of Charlotte had been out of work six months and searching for a job that would allow him an opportunity to advance. He learned of a job fair that was so “nondescript,” he said, that he almost passed on attending.

“It was in a back room of Dave and Buster’s in Concord Mills Mall,” Parker, 35, said, laughing.

Chime Solutions recruiters piqued his interest though, with its focus on bringing jobs to those in need, he said. “When I learned of their mission of doing for the community, I was sold,” Parker said. “And the fact that it was a Black company resonated with me.”

Parker started out as a call center representative and in 11 months was promoted to service delivery manager. “My job search had been unrewarding,” he said. “But Chime has allowed me upward mobility, which I wanted. And I don’t have to manage who I am on the job the way you have to do, as Blacks, on other jobs. One day I ended a phone conservation saying, ‘That’s dope.’ And no one said anything. That was so refreshing.

“I am allowed to let my personality shine and it’s embraced and appreciated. You don’t get that everywhere and almost nowhere.”

Looking to the future, Wilson, a graduate of Wilberforce University in Ohio, the nation’s oldest private historically Black college, set up a co-op program at his alma mater, the Emerging Leaders Chime Solutions Co-Op Experience. Selected students will work with a leading health care provider in an innovative learning environment.

“The one thing I can say is that everyone is learning,” Michael Beasley, a Wilberforce student who is in the co-op program, said. “Learning how to be more professional, more serious. It’s pretty special that someone who walked on this same campus has committed to helping others who are walking in his footsteps.”

The 16 students in the program this semester earn a salary, and receive a scholarship, academic credits and housing near the campus’ Center for Entrepreneurship. The participants who complete the semester-long co-op are eligible for employment at Chime Solutions after graduation.

“It’s the kind of initiative we’ve been waiting on, but no one had done,” Beasley said. “He (Wilson) is acting. You can tell people what to do and you can show them. This program is showing us, which makes it special.”

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If you need a co-signer, you’re not ready | Business

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My fiancée and I want to make an offer on a house. She has a lot of late payments and a bad credit record, though, but she is working hard to manage her money better and get out of debt. I don’t make enough money to get a home loan by myself, and I have some debt to pay off, too. In order to help us out, my aunt and uncle said they are willing to co-sign a mortgage loan for us. What do you think of that idea?

Here’s a simple, solid piece of advice for anyone looking to make a purchase of any kind. If you need a co-signer, you’re not ready to make that purchase—period. I’m not trying to beat you up or anything, but it’s way too soon for you two to be thinking about buying a home. I mean, for starters you’re just engaged right now.

When a lender requires a co-signer, it basically means they don’t believe you’ll pay back the money. And besides, you two don’t need a house now or right after you get married. The two of you should get married, and live in a decent, inexpensive apartment for a while. During that time, you both need to work hard on paying off all your debt. After that, save up an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Then, start setting aside cash for a down payment on a modest home.

When it comes time to buy a home, I recommend a 15-year, fixed rate loan with a down payment of at least 10%. Twenty% is better, because it will help you avoid having to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance). Make sure the monthly payments on the loan are no more than 25% of your combined take home pay. Keeping the payments at 25% or below will make it easier to address other important financial issues, like saving and investing.

Your aunt and uncle are obviously generous people, Evan, but they’re a little misguided in their offer. At this point, helping you two buy a house — something you obviously can’t afford —would be a huge burden instead of a blessing.

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 11 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations and digital outlets. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business, and CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 11 million listeners each week on more than 550 radio stations and digital outlets. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

 

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Dave says: If you need a cosigner, you're not ready – Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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Dave says: If you need a cosigner, you’re not ready  Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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How to improve your credit score in 2021: Easy and effective tips

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If you’ve ever wondered “What is my credit score?” it’s probably time to find out. Having a good credit score can make life a lot more affordable. If you’re about to buy a house or car, for example, the higher your credit score is, the lower your interest rate (and therefore, monthly cost) will probably be.

Your number may also be the deciding factor for whether or not you can get a loan and ultimately determine if you are even able to buy something you want or need.

So, yes, the goal is to have the highest possible credit score you can, but increasing the number doesn’t just happen overnight. There are important steps to take if you want to increase your score, and the sooner you start working on it, the better.

“If you’re trying to increase (your credit score) substantially to accomplish a goal, you’re really going to have to have as much lead time as possible,” said Thomas Nitzsche, director of media and brand at Money Management International, a nonprofit financial counseling and education provider that advises people on how to legally and ethically improve their credit score on their own.

If you have fair credit and you’re trying to improve the number for a house purchase, for instance, you’ll want to start working on it at least a year in advance, he explained to TMRW.

But even though that sounds like a long time away, you can (and should!) start doing things right now to bump that number up. Below, see seven things you should do — and not do — to help improve your credit score:

1. Review your credit report

Review your credit report and look for errors that might be hurting your score. Morsa Images / Getty Images

The first thing you’ll want to do is pull up a copy of your current report so you know where you stand. You can get free reports from all three agencies — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax — at annualcreditreport.com. Nitzsche said it’s important to take a moment and understand the financial snapshot of where you are today and where you want to be.

You’ll also want to take some time and look for any errors on your report, which could negatively impact your score. “If your name is misspelled, that’s not going to hurt your score,” he explained. “But if you see a late payment or missed payment (that’s in error), or maybe you have an account that should be reporting but isn’t, then that’s a problem and that will impact your score.”

If there is an error, you should dispute it and try to provide as much proof as you can.

One other thing: You can also ask a creditor to remove an issue if it’s been corrected (i.e., if you paid off a collection debt). Nitzsche said it doesn’t hurt to ask and the worst thing they could say is no.

2. Have good financial habits

“The biggest part of your credit score is payment history, so the most critical thing is never missing a due date,” Nitzsche said. Set up a monthly autopay or add all due dates to your calendar so you never miss a bill.

You can also achieve a higher score when you mix different types of accounts on your credit report. It may seem counterintuitive to get extra points for having debt in the form of student loans, mortgages and auto loans, but as long as you’re paying them off responsibly, it shows that you’re reliable.

3. Aim to use 30% or less of your credit at any given time

Know your credit limit and aim to only use 30% or less of it for a better credit score.Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Know your credit card limit, and try not to use any more than 30% of that number each month, otherwise your score could lose points for too much credit utilization.

Another thing you can do is ask your bank to increase your limit. “That will give you more flexibility to spend more,” Nitzsche said. You could also pay it off twice a month to keep the balance low. But he does warn that you never know when the balance is going to be reported to the bureau. It can happen at any point during the month, so it might be the day after you make the payment or the day before. “You don’t necessarily want to use the card and pay it the next day because that doesn’t give the bureau the chance to know that you’re using it,” he said.

4. Avoid requests for new credit

If you’re looking to increase your score around the time you want to buy a house or car, you won’t want to open up a new line of credit, like a retail card, credit card or loan. That’s because “hard” credit inquiries like those can lower your score, and sometimes it comes down to a few points over whether you’re approved or what your rate will be, Nitzsche said.

“Soft” credit inquiries, like when an employer checks your credit or when you pull your own report, won’t affect your score.

5. Keep all accounts open, even ones you don’t use anymore

Even if you don’t use that credit card from college, it’s a good idea to just keep it open because closing it could hurt your score. Nitzsche explained that you’ll be dinged some points for each account that is closed. If you want or need to mentally break up with a card, just cut it up instead.

6. Build your credit if needed

If you haven’t established credit yet, you might not even exist … in the credit report space, that is! “If someone has never fallen in delinquency on any subscriptions or utilities or never had collections on anything and they have not utilized credit cards or loans in the past seven to 10 years, they may not have a credit profile at all,” Nitzsche said. “That presents a challenge when you want to buy a home.”

If this sounds familiar, you may have to get a secured credit card where you put down a deposit, he advised. “You still have to make payments and use it responsibly. Not all banks offer them but you can usually check with your local bank or credit union.”

7. Reach out for help

If you want personal guidance on boosting your credit score, make an appointment with a credit counselor.kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

There are many apps and credit-monitoring services that can help you stay on top of your credit score. You could also reach out to a professional credit counselor who can help you navigate your specific situation. (Here’s a good resource about finding a reputable service.)

One last thing: Nitzsche warned that everyone should beware of credit repair scams that claim to be able to increase credit scores for an advance fee to get accurate negative information removed (even temporarily) from credit reports.

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