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Q&A: Rep. Naquetta Ricks, first African immigrant elected to Colorado Legislature



Naquetta Ricks
Rep. Naquetta Ricks, a Democrat from Aurora, was elected to the Colorado House in 2020. (Courtesy of Naquetta Ricks)

This week, States Newsroom outlets including Colorado Newsline featured refugees from around the country in honor of World Refugee Day. Colorado state Rep. Naquetta Ricks, a Democrat who represents Aurora and a Liberian refugee, was among those featured.

Ricks — whose family fled political persecution in Liberia in 1980 — became the first African immigrant to serve in the Colorado General Assembly upon her election last year.

When Ricks, 54, was a child in Liberia, dissidents involved in a violent military coup broke into her home and held her mother at gunpoint for nearly two hours, she told Newsline.


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“They were looking for a government official, who was my mom’s fiance,” she said. “After searching our home, they eventually found him and they dragged my mother and him to our driveway, and they threw him into the back of a pickup truck. By the grace of God, they did not take my mom.”

Ricks’ mother’s fiance was executed, she said, and the family fled the country.

Besides sharing details of her background as a Liberian refugee, Ricks spoke with Newsline about her political career and legislative priorities. Outside of politics, Ricks works as a mortgage broker, and she founded the African Chamber of Commerce of Colorado.

Below, read Newsline’s interview with Ricks, edited for clarity and brevity.

Newsline: Could you start by talking a bit about the events that led up to your family leaving Liberia?

Ricks: After they dragged the my mom’s fiance off, we knew that the soldiers would come back to the house. So we grabbed one suitcase apiece, whatever we could grab, and we just ran to a relative’s house in the city. That was, like, April of 1980, and we stayed at my relative’s house … My mom got a medical leave of absence (from work), and then we were able to come to the United States. We came to Chicago for the first couple of months, and by August of that year we ended up here in Aurora, Colorado, where we have family members.

How long did it take between applying for refugee status and being accepted into the U.S.?

When we came, we did not have refugee status. My mom asked for a medical leave, we came as visitors, and so after we came into the United States … we applied first for asylum because of the atrocities that my mom and us had suffered there in Liberia. We had newspaper articles and all of that, but we were unable to prove our case, because we didn’t have a lawyer. And so we went through several iterations with the immigration system, and then it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan (signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986) that we had a pathway to citizenship.

Colorado state Rep. Naquetta Ricks, a Democrat who represents the diverse community of Aurora, fled to the U.S. in 1980 from Liberia. Several years later, her family was granted a pathway to citizenship under legislation signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. (Courtesy of Naquetta Ricks)

How did you feel in the first few weeks after arriving in the U.S.? What do you remember most about it?

I remember landing in Chicago, and we’re like coming up in the escalator — I think it was my first time seeing an escalator, and I had on this long African gown — and I was very scared to go up the escalator. We went to go live with my mom’s sister-in-law in Chicago, and the first day after we got there, I think we changed clothing, and then there was a Jack in the Box up the street. (My sister and I were) like, “Oh my god, American hamburgers and french fries!” … It was really exciting just to be in the U.S. and just, you know, eating American food.

Was there anything that was difficult, anything that you missed from Liberia?

We stayed two months in Chicago. We came to Colorado and — I mean, we left everything, right? So here we are, we have to get acclimated to new schools, make new friends, we left everything. I remember going to Central High School, the first day during lunchtime, and I’m like a deer in the headlights: I’m shy, kind of awkward. And just standing in that lunchroom looking around, not knowing anybody … People would be like, “Where you from? You got an accent.” I’m like, “Yes, I have an accent, so do you!” … I used to get all these silly questions, (like) “Do you wear clothes in Africa? Do you drive cars?”

It was a little embarrassing for me being a shy, awkward teenager. … I missed my friends. I missed, you know, my normal environment, and there I was in this new place trying to make it home.

Do you feel like if you had immigrated later in life, it might have been more difficult?

My mother had lived here before, she lived in California, because she was college-educated here. … It wasn’t foreign for people to come back and forth. … but just being uprooted, you know — because all of a sudden you’re plucked up from everything you know and thrust into a whole other country — it was traumatic. And then I think for the longest time, I didn’t really know that I had gone through trauma (and) didn’t want to talk about what we had gone through to get here. … But very thankful that the worst didn’t happen, because so many people had gotten raped, gotten killed, so we were the fortunate ones to be able to get out. … I’m glad that we had a place to run to, a place to seek refuge.

Do you feel like once you were able to realize you experienced trauma, then you were able to heal from it? What helped you cope?

I don’t think that I realized that I had gone through trauma until — I don’t know, in the last 10 years. (My focus was) “You’re going to go get a college degree, you’re going to make a better life for yourself,” and just having that determination and that drive. Everything was just focused and directed in that vein, and it was all about being successful, you know, taking advantage of the opportunities that were in front of us and trying not to look back too much. But I think in the last 10 years as I think about my life and where I’ve come from … that was a lot of trauma, like (that was) so much to overcome.

Georgette Mabi, left, and Jacqueline Shabani, both from the Democratic Republic of Congo, joke around at the World Refugee Day celebration, put on by Colorado Refugee Connect, in Aurora on Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Eli Imadali for Colorado Newsline)

What do you wish that people outside the refugee and immigrant communities understood about those communities?

Yes, America is one of the greatest countries in the world, but people come because they are running from trauma, political unrest, they come because they’re running from famine and war. … People are here because they’re seeking a better life. They’re seeking a place where they can live and they can thrive, and I think that immigrants contribute so much to the United States. … We are part of this fabric of this country. We are here to make this place a better place. We work hard, we’re entrepreneurial. We want the same things that most families want. We want a great education, we want good health care, we want great jobs, and wherever we can, we contribute to our communities.

(Population trends show) Coloradoans are not having as many children, so that there is going to be a decline in population, and in order for us to keep up with our economy, we are going to need, you know, workers. And so immigrants are one way of increasing that. Of course, we want people who are born here as well, native-born, but I think that all of us collectively contribute to a great society and help make Colorado what we all want it to be.

What made you decide to run for elected office?

I started running for office about seven years ago, so it was a seven-year journey. I didn’t just step out there and win. My first run was for the (University of Colorado) Board of Regents, because it had to do with education, and I believe that education is important, and it is the great equalizer for people. … Education can open so many doors for advancement for people, and my parents stressed the value of a great education always, so college was always where we were going and there was no other option but college. At any rate, I ran for that after taking classes through (Emerge Colorado), which trains women to run for office, and I never saw myself as a politician. But after getting out there, I got over 100,000 votes because it was a statewide seat, but it wasn’t enough to win. I ran again in 2017 for (Aurora) City Council. I came in third, and then I thought, “Well, maybe this wasn’t meant to be,” (that) I wasn’t supposed to be a politician.

Then during the last (presidential) administration, there was a lot of rhetoric that was very negative about immigrants — that immigrants were criminals (and) gangbangers. … All of this negative rhetoric made me (think) that we really need people who are going to talk about the contributions of immigrants and that their voices need to be heard. They are underrepresented, they are underserved when it comes to politics, and so I think it was important to have some different voices to bring the true reflection of immigrants to the table. And so that made me want to run. It fueled my passion for running.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments from the legislative session?

(Senate Bill 21-241) has just been signed by the governor. … It was a federal stimulus bill (to help entrepreneurs) get the consultations and the expertise they need to make their businesses grow. And so I’m thrilled about that. I’m also thrilled about the towing bill that I did. That has gotten a lot of interest, because … it’s a punitive situation once (tow truck companies) get your car, because you on average will pay at least $300 and more to get your car out. So we’re looking into how those fees are being assessed and looking at a task force that is monitoring that situation and making sure that is more inclusive of consumer protection … so that is a bill that I’m proud of. I did a bill around a pilot program for disabled workers within Colorado. That’s something to help our disabled community feel valued and so that they are also able to get jobs and using the talents and gifts that they have.

I cosponsored (Senate Bill 21-169) with Sen. (Janet) Buckner (D-Aurora). And that is something that hasn’t been done before. We, Colorado, will be the first in the nation to look at how insurance companies are using your data. For example, credit is a piece of data that they use that has no correlation to whether or not you are a bad driver. However, you get hit by the insurance companies because you have bad credit. … Because of bad credit, they feel that they should charge more.

I also did a bill where tenants can now report their rental history on their credit report, and this is to help people who have no credit, who are credit-invisible … build a credit profile. Over the next 18 months, we’ll be working on that pilot program, and people will also get financial literacy classes when they opt into this voluntary program. So we’ll see how this looks and see if this is eventually something that we want to take statewide. So that’s just a few of the bills. I think we did some really great work all across the Legislature this year.

A small housing complex in Lyons. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Any policies you’re working on for next session?

The issue of housing and affordable housing in Colorado remains a big issue, and I think it’s going to take … some creativity to try to solve it. There’s no magic bullet for this problem, but getting some collective minds and studying what other people are doing and how we can adapt that for Colorado is a space that I definitely want to delve more into. And so I will be looking at how we can improve housing and offer opportunities for people to become homeowners in Colorado.

As I understand it, you made history by becoming the first African immigrant to serve in the state Legislature.

I am the first African immigrant elected to a Colorado state legislature. … When I got elected in November, (Nathan Biah) was elected into the Rhode Island state Legislature. So we both made history (as the first Liberian Americans elected to a state legislature).

What does that mean to you, and what do you think are the effects of having more diversity among elected officials?

First of all, it’s exciting and I’m thrilled, but I also think that I’m not going to be last. I want to open the door. I think that the glass ceiling has been busted through and now others can come in behind me. I think it’s important to serve my constituents well, lead with integrity and be someone that can help to make change … I’ve already had other people who are so inspired by this who are telling me that they want me to mentor them, so we are going to have more people come to serve as state legislators and school board members.

I think that we should have people from diverse backgrounds. I think representation does matter, and it’s important to bring not only your ethnic identity markers to the table, and your culture, but also the expertise that you have. Whether it’s from schooling or from your work experience or whatever it is, there’s so many things that we can bring to bear within legislation. And I saw that in the committees that I served on. I served on the Business Affairs and Labor Committee. I also served on the (Public and Behavioral) Health and Human Services Committee. And in all of those committees, my work experience as a small business owner, or working in corporate America, or just the experience that I gained through the community always came to bear … (as) a single mom, a Black woman, small business owner — whatever it is.


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Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.

The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”

The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.

In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?



Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Bad Credit

Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune



By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit and or email; you also can follow her on Facebook ( and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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