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Miracles in a tough season

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Harry Hines Boulevard in northwest Dallas is a “track,” a place where prostitution is, at least in normal times, visible and available. It’s a wide, treeless expanse of concrete, low-slung buildings, and neon signs. On a Saturday in early August, a nearly full moon glowed in the southeastern sky. A couple of strip clubs had reopened and, judging from the parking lots, were doing good business. Outside of one, a doorman stood wearing a surgical mask. 

The pandemic hurt strip clubs like those on Harry Hines Boulevard, and it also put a crimp on prostitution generally. The Dallas Police Department (DPD) reported that cases of johns “purchasing prostitution” dropped 63 percent during the first half of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. Human trafficking reports dropped by 39 percent. “COVID has definitely had an impact,” said Maj. John Madison of DPD’s vice unit.

But the pandemic effect has not been all good. Harmony Grillo, founder of Treasures, a California-based ministry to sex trafficking victims, said traffickers are forcing some women to do more porn webcamming “to meet the increased demand that’s created by those in quarantine.” Carol Wiley, director of A Way Out, a similar program in Tennessee, said fewer johns may be renting women face to face, but she fears that “violence toward the women [by traffickers] increases.” 

Some of the heaviest and least-anticipated impacts of the pandemic have fallen on victims of sex trafficking who had already escaped the life. One such victim—call her Ava, because she has legitimate fear of her trafficker tracking her down—was recovering from three years of being sex trafficked when the pandemic hit.

Ava, 24, escaped her trafficker in 2018. She built a relationship with God and overcame deep-rooted social anxieties. But the pandemic shutdown took away much of the community she had built since escaping prostitution. In-person worship services at her church in Fort Worth stopped. Small groups she attended on issues from emotional support to financial coaching could no longer meet.

Ava was living in a house run by Valiant Hearts, a Texas-based group that helps women escape the sex industry. As the pandemic lockdown continued, house parent Tiffany Kiser noticed that Ava had lost the optimism she’d gained since being in the program. She stayed in her room and refused to talk about what was bothering her. 

In normal times, Valiant Hearts provides women with choices, something victims lose when they are trafficked: To appear controlling risks having a victim equate you with her trafficker. But Ava was at a critical point in her healing, one that called for an unorthodox approach. Kiser and Emily Chavez, Valiant Hearts’ program director, demanded that Ava sit down with them. When she did, her hands shook and her face looked as if a year and a half of therapy had completely unwound. Ava said she couldn’t explain how she felt or why. “Just start talking,” Chavez said.

SEX TRAFFICKING IS A LARGE, sophisticated, underground economy, with its own networks, business models, and jargon. Criminals like the one who trafficked Ava are the successful entrepreneurs of the industry. They own multiple homes and drive expensive cars. At any one time, they may control dozens of prostitutes, sometimes trading them with affiliated traffickers in other parts of the country. They diversify across every segment of the market, from prostitution conducted along streets to discreet, “agency-­level” procurement deals for wealthy and prominent johns who shield themselves behind third parties. 

Ava’s trafficker controlled 30 women of different ethnicities, shapes, and hairstyles. He used a combination of charm, coercion, and physical assault to keep them in line. One night after a birthday party for one of the women, police responded to a call about an attempted robbery and shooting. When the police saw so many women and only one man in the house, the officers became suspicious—but could find no grounds to arrest anyone.

The next day, one of the women told Ava she wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the hospital. Ava loaned her a cell phone so she could call for a ride home. Ava never saw the phone again. At the hospital, the woman told authorities her real problem: She was being trafficked and needed help. The phone became evidence in the case against the trafficker. 

Six months later, police raided the house where Ava lived, arresting her, the other women, and the trafficker. Since she was recovering from invasive cosmetic surgery, police placed her in a segregated cell as a protection against infection. There she remained for six weeks: “It was the first time that my brain had freedom to think the way it wanted to.”

“It was the first time that my brain had freedom to think the way it wanted to.”

In jail, Ava began asking God to show her if He was real. He opened her eyes to see her situation: The trafficker claimed to care about her while beating her and crushing her sense of self-worth. One day as she lay on the skimpy jail mattress, a letter arrived from a friend. It contained a Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and to harm you.”

Ava wasn’t sure what to make of it. Were there plans to harm her? She looked the verse up, and realized her friend had miscopied it. The actual verse reads “… not to harm you.” In that moment, she realized if she stayed with her trafficker she might share with her trafficker some of the affluent, glamorous life he portrayed to the world, but there would be harm. 

She decided to take her life away from her trafficker and give it to God.

When she met with her lawyer, she pleaded to find a place where she could learn how “to be human.” That’s how she ended up at Valiant Hearts. Ava was baptized a year ago. Photos from after the service show Ava’s face stuck in a smile that, as she described it, almost covered her eyes.

Ava’s battle was not over. She had to sort through years of emotional damage. For three months after moving into the Valiant Hearts house, she was afraid to leave, only going to church or with others to the grocery store. She also had to unravel a financial and legal mess. Sex traffickers bind and exploit victims by using their identities to open businesses and bank accounts for laundering money. Ava learned about a house in California deeded in her name.

“It’s very strategically planned out,” Chavez said, “so that nothing ties back to [the trafficker]. And when the ladies come out … they have debt, tax evasion, criminal histories, bad credit, and bad relationships with banks.” Ava’s credit score was “about as low as it could get.” Banks turned her down five times for a checking account before she got one through a connection to someone who owned a bank.

WHEN THE PANDEMIC HIT and Ava withdrew, Chavez was worried. She demanded that Ava “just start talking.” 

It started with tears, and what Ava later described as “word vomiting.” She began to see how in the absence of healthy routines and regular worship, she had fallen into old patterns of thought dictated by her trafficker: She’d never amount to anything, never be anything but a prostitute. Ava began to realize the extent to which the pandemic had become a trigger, but one she could counter with skills she had already learned in counseling. 

Since then Ava has made progress. She’s completed the Valiant Hearts program. With her legal troubles mostly behind her, she is moving into her own apartment. She has a job with Savhera, a company that provides employment to victims of sexual exploitation. She is also starting college and has a 10-year plan to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, so she can “help more survivors like myself get deeper healing and understanding.”

“This will be the first time I’ve lived on my own literally my entire life. Woo-hooo! The Lord has shown off in this season, really showing miracles. But it’s also been a really tough season.”  

—Paul McDonnold is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course



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Bad Credit

How to get a business credit card with bad personal credit

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Dear Business Banter,

I want to start a business, but I have bad credit. What are my options? – James

Dear James,

Although an impressive credit history and high credit scores aren’t required to start a business, they sure help! After all, you may soon want to borrow funds from a financial institution so you can do everything from pay for the costs of a launch to managing ongoing operations.

To appeal to a lender, your past credit history will be relevant. Thankfully, you can overcome the problems associated with bad credit to qualify for a business credit card—and a loan, since that might be necessary too.

Have a business question for Erica? Drop her a line at the Ask Bankrate Experts page.

Build up your score

Since your business has yet to begin, you don’t have a business credit profile that can help you qualify for credit products. Therefore, lenders will assess your personal creditworthiness to determine qualification and set terms.

To know what is dragging your credit scores down, pull your credit reports up. You can get a report from each of the three credit reporting agencies—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—once a year for free from annualcreditreport.com.

The information listed in the sections for trade lines, public record, and credit inquiries of your credit report is all inputted into scoring models, so read your reports carefully. If you spot any inaccuracies, file a dispute with one of the credit reporting agencies. The one you use will notify the other two, and your files will be updated.

To improve your scores (even when the negative data is still being listed):

  • Pay all credit accounts on time. Although late payments hurt credit scores (especially when there are many, or accounts are seriously delinquent), establishing a perfect payment history from this point forward will help mend the damage.
  • Reduce credit card debt. If you have credit cards and they’re maxed out, reduce the balance to well below the credit limit.
  • Open up a credit card. Consider opening a personal credit card. Many credit cards are created specifically for people with bad credit. Once you have it, choose a small bill to charge each month, then pay it off in full and on time.
  • Add utility and cell phone accounts to your report. The more on-time payments you have on your credit report, the better. Experian has a free Boost program where you can add non-credit accounts to your file. Those payments should help give your FICO 8 credit score at least a few extra points.

With this strategy, your credit score will increase over time.

See related: Do I need a business credit score to start a business?

Get a business credit card

Although you can use a personal credit card for your business, it’s better to get one specifically for your company. They offer benefits that are designed to help business owners do everything from handle their enterprise’s expenses to helping with accounting.

Just be aware that these cards remain your personal responsibility. Even if it’s in your business’s name, you will be on the hook for all payments and any outstanding debt.

So, how can you get a business credit card with bad personal credit? When your scores are at least in the “good” range, start looking into the business credit card options that are available. As you’ll see, there are many from which to choose, so give this task plenty of time.

Be aware that some business cards are charge cards while others are credit cards. With a charge card, there is no preset limit, but you’ll need to pony up the entire balance within about 30 days. With a credit card, there is a maximum amount you can charge, but you can pay at least the minimum requested payment and then revolve the rest. Ultimately, you may want one of each.

When your scores are at least in the “good” range, start looking into the business credit card options that are available.

Almost all business cards have rewards programs attached to them, so read over the program’s details and focus on those that you’ll use. For example, if you think traveling will be in your future, concentrate on a card that gives you the best perks for flights, airport amenities, hotels and car rentals.

Many business credit cards offer excellent sign-up bonuses, too, where you would receive a large amount of points, cash or miles after spending a certain amount with the card within a few months of activation.

Some also offer 0 percent APRs for a fixed number of months, which will give you a nice amount of time to pay for your venture’s needs before financing fees are assessed. As long as you pay the debt in full before the real rate begins, you get a free loan! As you use the card, you’ll be racking up rewards.

These programs differ, so make sure it’s a good match. One card may offer an exceptional reward value for restaurant meals, while another gives the most for things like office products.

Finally, prepare for annual fees. Not all cards charge them, but if you get more out of the account by way of perks and rewards, you’ll come out ahead. Choose wisely.

Look into loans

Credit and charge cards tend to be great for short-term financing, while business loans are preferable for big-ticket expenses that you want to pay off over several years.

To get a business loan with the best terms, it’s best to wait until your credit is in decent shape. However, if you must borrow a significant amount of money right away and then pay in equal installment payments, there are startup business loans for bad credit.

Loans with no credit checks still pass through an approval process, but the lender analyzes your assets and income for approval instead of your credit history. If it appears that you can make the payments that are associated with the loan, it should be approved. Other lenders do check credit reports and scores, but the standards for qualification are low.

In either case, loans that are developed for people with bad credit tend to be smaller and come with higher interest rates than those for people who have good credit.

Whichever loan you get, simply pay it off according to the agreement. Assuming the lender furnishes information to the credit reporting agencies (most do, but if you get a “no credit check loan,” ask the lender to be sure), it will help your credit scores rise.

Take these simple steps and you’ll not only repair your bad credit but will have the good credit products for your business!

Bottom line

To qualify for a business credit card (and a business loan), take action to improve your personal credit history.

Shape up your FICO score, identify the right business card for your needs and consider a business loan.

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Home Equity Loan With Bad Credit: Can It Be Done?

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Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as “Credible.”

Home equity loans let you turn your equity into cash, which you can use to pay for home improvements, unexpected medical expenses, or any other bills you might be facing.

Generally, lenders require at least a 620 credit score to qualify for a home equity loan. If your score isn’t quite there yet, though, you still have options.

Here’s how you may be able to get a home equity loan with bad credit:

  1. Check your credit and try to improve it
  2. Find out your debt-to-income ratio
  3. Find out how much equity you have
  4. Think about bringing on a cosigner
  5. Shop around for the best rates
  6. Consider alternatives to bad credit home equity loans

1. Check your credit and try to improve it

To start, head to AnnualCreditReport.com and pull your credit. You get one free report from all three credit bureaus per year.

Once you have your credit report, check it for errors and evidence of identity theft, such as accounts you don’t recognize and credit cards that aren’t yours. Reporting these to the credit bureau can help improve your score. So can taking these steps:

  • Pay all your bills on time: Payment history — or your track record of payments — accounts for 35% of your score, so make it a point to pay all of your bills on time, every time.
  • Pay down your debts: Lenders want to see a credit utilization rate of 30% or less — meaning your balances account for 30% or less than your total available credit.
  • Keep credit cards open: How long your accounts have been open impacts 15% of your credit score, so avoid closing accounts — even once you’ve paid them off.
  • Avoid applying for new cards: This will result in hard credit inquiries, which can hurt your score.

Learn More: How Your Credit Score Impacts Mortgage Rates

2. Find out your debt-to-income ratio

Lenders will also consider your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) when you apply for a home equity loan. This indicates how much of your monthly income goes toward paying off debt.

How to calculate DTI: Add up your monthly bills and loan/credit card payments, and divide the total by your monthly income. Multiply that amount by 100.

For example, if you have $2,000 in debt payments and make $6,000 per month, your DTI would be 33% ($2,000 / $6,000 x 100).

Most lenders want a DTI of 43% or lower. A low DTI can help improve your chances of getting a loan, especially if you have a lower credit score, since it indicates less risk for the borrower.

3. Find out how much equity you have

How much equity you have in your home, as well as your loan-to-value ratio, will determine whether you qualify for a home equity loan — and how much you can borrow. To find out yours, you’ll need to get an appraisal, which is a professional evaluation of your home’s value. The national average cost of a home appraisal is $400, according to home remodeling site Fixr.

Once the appraisal is finished, you can calculate your loan-to-value ratio by dividing your outstanding mortgage loan balance by your home’s value.

For example: If you have $100,000 remaining on your home, and the appraisal determines it’s worth $200,000, then you have an LTV of 50% ($100,000 / $200,000). This also means you have 50% equity in the home.

Most lenders will only allow you to have a combined LTV of 85% — meaning your existing loan, plus your new home equity loan can’t equal more than 85% of your home’s value.

In this example, you’d be able to borrow $170,000 (85% of $200,000) across both your initial mortgage loan and your new home equity loan. Since your existing loan still has $100,000 on it, that’d mean you could take out a home equity loan of up to $70,000.

4. Think about bringing on a cosigner

Bringing in a family member or friend with excellent credit to cosign your bad credit loan can help your case, too. If you do go this route, make sure they understand what it means for their finances. Though you may not intend for them to make payments, they’re just as responsible for the loan as you.

Tip: If you fail to repay the loan as agreed, it could hurt the other individual’s credit score or result in collections against both of you. Make sure you’re upfront and transparent about what cosigning your loan may mean for them.

5. Shop around for the best rates

A lower credit score will typically mean a higher interest rate, so it’s incredibly important you shop around and compare your options before moving forward. Get rate quotes from at least three to five lenders, and make sure to compare each loan estimate line by line, as fees and closing costs can vary, too.

Credible makes comparing rates easy. While Credible doesn’t offer rates for home equity loans, you can get quotes for a cash-out refinance — another strategy for tapping your home equity. Get prequalified in just three minutes.

Get the cash you need and the rate you deserve

  • Compare lenders
  • Get cash out to pay off high-interest debt
  • Prequalify in just 3 minutes

Find My Loan
No annoying calls or emails from lenders!

6. Consider alternatives to bad credit home equity loans

A bad credit score can make it hard to get a home equity loan — especially one with a low interest rate. If you’re finding it difficult to qualify for an affordable one, you might consider one of these alternatives:

Cash-out refinance

Cash-out refinances replace your existing mortgage loan with a new, higher balance one. You then get the difference between the two balances in cash.

Find Out: Credit Score Needed to Refinance Your Home

Personal loans

Personal loans offer fast funding, and you don’t need collateral either. Rates can be a bit higher than on home equity loans and refinances, though, so it’s even more important to shop around. A tool like Credible can help here.

Check Out: Home Equity Loan or Personal Loan: How to Choose the Best Option

Compare multiple lenders

If you have bad credit, there are still ways to tap your home equity or borrow cash if you need it. Head to Credible to see what personal loan options and mortgage refinance rates you might qualify for. With Credible, you can easily compare prequalified rates from all of our partner lenders without leaving our platform.

About the author

Aly J. Yale

Aly J. Yale

Aly J. Yale is a mortgage and real estate authority and a contributor to Credible. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Fox Business, The Motley Fool, Bankrate, The Balance, and more.

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A Look Back At Housing 2020: Rental Housing Gets Riskier

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According to the American Housing Survey cited in a recent article, there are about 48 million rental housing units in the United States ranging from single-family homes to large multifamily apartment complexes. Of those 48 million units about 23 million are owned by individuals, according to a recent Rental Housing Finance Survey; that’s more than half of the occupied units in the country. Yet private rental housing providers have been under relentless attack in recent years increasing risks and costs. This has worsened in 2020 as I have pointed out. More risk means fewer housing units and higher prices, not a good outlook for the future.

Any business based on renting assets is based on risk. Think about the last time you went bowling. When you rent the shoes, the person behind the counter often will hold a driver’s license? Why? It’s a way of offsetting the risk that you’ll go home with the shoes either on purpose or accidentally. Nobody wants to deal with a lost driver’s license. Offsetting this risk has absolutely nothing to do with you or your trustworthiness; it is uniformly applied and routine.

Housing providers have to similarly offset the risk of allowing a stranger occupy their private property. There are several ways of doing this, including using credit checks. But lately, politicians are beginning to eliminate the credit check from the tools that housing providers can use to offset risk. Minneapolis for example has eliminated credit checks arguing that they are a “barrier” to housing.

Is race a factor in bad credit and thus a barrier to people of color to get housing? The fact is, yes, African American people have more credit issues. But would eliminating credit checks help them? The answer is, “No.”

An article in the Washington Post, “Credit scores are supposed to be race-neutral. That’s impossible,” is emblematic of how this issue plays among the public and policy makers. The author says two contradictory things. First,

“This would lead one to think that credit-score calculations can’t be biased. But factors that are included or excluded in the algorithms used to create a credit score can have the same effect as lending decisions made by prejudiced White loan officers.”

Then she writes,

“One quick way to impact your credit history is a court-ordered judgment. And Black borrowers are more likely to fare badly when taken to court by their creditors. Debt-collection lawsuits that end in default judgments also disproportionately go against Blacks, according to a 2020 Pew Charitable Trusts report.”

Logically, the right way to state this is that credit measures are biased against people who have default judgments against them, and African Americans have higher rates of defaults. Then the next question would be, “Why?” The most obvious answer is the right one, poverty is disproportionately concentrated among people of color.

But eliminating credit checks for housing won’t help that problem. If a housing provider is unable to evaluate risk based on past financial performance her only option will be to raise rents and deposit amounts in case there is a problem; that extra cash would provide a buffer if a resident stops paying rent. This won’t help anyone with less money. What’s the response to that? Ban rent increases by imposing rent control! That’s a bad idea too and won’t help either.

The answer is to figure out how people who have less money and therefore have more issues making ends meet can solve that problem and improve their credit scores. The author of the Washington Post article makes a sensible suggestion: include steady rent payments in credit scores. Some housing providers do, and it’s a great idea. But it is a positive one that actually helps the family; banning quantitative measures of past financial performance doesn’t.

The danger that unfolded in 2020 is that justifiable outrage about racism could lead to interventions that don’t address poverty and it’s negative consequences like default judgments but elimination of accepted measures of those consequences. Eliminating the evidence of poverty – struggling to pay bills – doesn’t help pay the bills! At best, these kinds of measures sweep the problem under the rug ensuring higher rents and making housing a risky business only big corporations will be able to do.

The answer is to address the broader underlying issues of poverty and increasing housing production. When there is more supply of housing providers compete with providers for residents and will be forced to bargain with potential residents, even those with dings or dents or completely destroyed credit. Housing abundance solves a housing problem while eliminating measure of risk only makes that risk higher and actually creates a housing problem.

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