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Why it took an Atlanta businessman to see through the toxic myths of southern Dallas

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Despite dropping 500 decent jobs into southern Dallas these last few months — with plans to double that number by next December — Mark Wilson would never be mistaken for a warm and fuzzy do-gooder.

Wilson is an entrepreneur intent on big successes for the Atlanta-based call-center services operation he owns with wife Shelly. But their business model — intentionally setting up shop in long-overlooked communities that are home to similarly invisible workforces — is more inspiring, and probably more life-changing, than any philanthropic gift.

“The entire country is missing out on these talent pools,” Wilson told me this week at Chime Solutions’ sparkly new high-tech quarters at RedBird Mall in southwest Dallas. “This is not a social project or handout, it’s about human talent that’s been overlooked.”

Wilson’s commitment to living wages, to helping solve problems for employees and to creating a people-focused work environment speaks to Chime’s fundamental respect for each staffer. The return on those investments is loyalty, low employee turnover and absenteeism, and commitment by the entire team to do its very best work.

Wilson says that’s the secret that creates excellent results for Chime’s clients. “We don’t have a single customer who is not a reference,” Wilson said. “And they are giving that reference on our merit — how well are we doing the work.”

From my time leading this newspaper’s decadelong “Bridging Dallas’ North-South Gap” effort, I can attest that myth-busting, job-creating operations such as Wilson’s are rare in a part of our city that desperately needs them.

Wilson said he believes his humble life story, which includes growing up in a Fort Smith, Ark., housing project, helps him understand those Chime staffers who may have experienced similar circumstances.

Mark Wilson, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Chime Solutions, at his state-of-the-art call center in the second floor of RedBird Mall on Monday.  He's on a mission, particularly within African American neighborhoods, so people “don’t get stuck in the same place as their parents and the parents before them.”
Mark Wilson, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Chime Solutions, at his state-of-the-art call center in the second floor of RedBird Mall on Monday. He’s on a mission, particularly within African American neighborhoods, so people “don’t get stuck in the same place as their parents and the parents before them.” (Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

“There’s this stigma that if you are a person who needs work, you are somehow less than — or not talented,” Wilson told me. “It’s a complete fallacy.”

No wonder Wilson and RedBird owner and developer Peter Brodsky have worked together so splendidly. Dispelling stereotypes has been a years-long crusade for Brodsky since his reinvention of RedBird began.

Just as Brodsky knows that this part of the city wants — and can support — options for shopping, dining, work and play, Wilson is aware the neighborhoods are filled with “gems of talent” who must drive long distances for jobs.

Many of RedBird’s neighbors, most of them African American or Latino, have annual incomes of less than $50,000. But in addition to pockets of long-established middle-class residents, young professionals continue to buy homes and bring spending power to this part of Oak Cliff.

When Brodsky started looking for office tenants, he was dead-set against a call center, which too often means low-paying jobs and low-quality work conditions. But once he investigated Chime and sat down with Wilson, Brodsky became a big fan.

“Mark recognizes that the communities where he locates his businesses are filled with human beings who have not had the opportunity to develop their potential, and he knows that by investing in them, their lives and his company will be the better for it, as will we all,” Brodsky told me.

Key to Chime’s plan is putting together staff-support services such as child care, education on home ownership and credit repair, access to medical services and help with transportation.

Chime Solutions vice president Omar Hawk, left, chats with employee Tia Haywood. He spends a lot of his time talking to employees about coupling personal ambitions with company goals.
Chime Solutions vice president Omar Hawk, left, chats with employee Tia Haywood. He spends a lot of his time talking to employees about coupling personal ambitions with company goals.(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Wilson compares the approach to those much-heralded high-tech business campuses that offer perks such as dry cleaning, doggie day care and spa treatments. “No one looks at those services through the lens that this is some kind of philanthropic handout,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s philosophy is that Chime employees are similarly deserving of things that make their lives more comfortable. “If I can identify those things and help with them, we get the benefit of the talent — and the loyalty and commitment of the folks.”

Omar Hawk, who is in charge of the Dallas office, has been with Chime for 13 years, initially hiring on in Atlanta as a customer service representative and working his way up to vice president of operations.

He spends a lot of his time talking to employees about coupling personal ambitions with company goals. “That is near and dear to me because that’s what the Wilsons did for me and now I can carry that on in this environment,” he told me.

City Council member Tennell Atkins, whose district includes RedBird Mall, spearheaded the effort to get Chime a $2 million city grant so that new employees would receive paychecks during their weeks of training.

“After I went to Atlanta and looked at his [Wilson’s] operation, I believed he wants to move in the right direction,” Atkins told me. “It’s up to Peter and the city to work with him, to embrace him and market him.”

That likely won’t be a big chore. “Mark is a fantastic addition to the Dallas business community,” Brodsky said. “We need more leaders who see the potential of southern Dallas and its residents and are willing to invest in them, not for charity, but because of the recognition of their potential and value.”

Wilson spent 17 years with Dun & Bradstreet, focusing on its outsourcing and call center services before launching Chime in 2015 in Atlanta. With Dallas and Charlotte offices now open, he is looking for more markets.

He wants to provide training and work, particularly within African American neighborhoods, so people “don’t get stuck in the same place as their parents and the parents before them.” He dreams of the day Chime Solutions has created 10,000 jobs nationally and the impact that will have on families.

Chime Solutions is among the businesses already operating in the under-development RedBird Mall property.
Chime Solutions is among the businesses already operating in the under-development RedBird Mall property.(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Chime’s Dallas office feels like a fun, collaborative place to work. Throughout the huge open office space, white boards are covered with grids of numbers and goals, funny season’s greetings and inspirational mottos. “Someone who may have a chip on their shoulder may have scars on their back. You are called to care!” one read.

Cozy “namaste” relaxation rooms dot the perimeter, the break room operates on the honor system and the game area includes a pool table, ping pong, arcade basketball, an oversized Connect 4 game and big-screen TV.

Service representative LaQuindria Collins, a 27-year-old Dallas native, told me that this is the first job she’s ever held where “bosses give me credit for my work.”

Collins was thrilled to land a job that pays $14 an hour just a few minutes away from her child’s school. Named Chime’s top-performing employee in November, Collins said she feels she’s part of a strong foundation for a growing work family.

Martijana Grant told me she has lived in Oak Cliff for seven years, but this is her first job that doesn’t require a lengthy commute.

“I drove to Plano, to Allen, I drove plenty of places, but this job is only eight minutes away from my house,” said the 22-year-old Grant, who snared one of Chime’s first jobs after standing in line for two and a half hours at a job fair.

Grant loves the sense that she’s on a career track at Chime with supervisors who care for her and help her calculate how to advance in the company.

“You know somebody who needs a job?” she laughed. “Send them to Chime.”

And send more Mark Wilsons to southern Dallas.

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?

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When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances

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Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit

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Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.

 

 

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