New Initiative To Help St. Louisans Boost Credit Scores

Katie ArnoldJP In The News

From the St. Louis Public Radio.

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Prosperity Connection, a St. Louis nonprofit financial education provider, has launched an initiative to help people with their credit scores. St. Louis Builds Credit aims to build credit scores and wealth, while also teaching people to become financially resilient.

Paul Woodruff, executive director of the nonprofit, said good credit is often the gateway to more opportunities.

“When you think about opportunities for employment, for housing, for transportation, and for insurance,” Woodruff said, “the common denominator in being able to access all of these things that provide quality life is rooted in strong credit history for families.”

The initiative is modeled after Boston Builds Credit in Boston. With the help of the Equifax Foundation, Prosperity Connection was able to bring a similar initiative to St. Louis and is partnering with Dutchtown South Community Corporation, Justine Petersen and the St. Louis Small Business Empowerment Center.

Woodruff said the goal is to provide resources so people can establish, repair and maintain strong credit.

Participants will have access to several free resources, including credit health classes and one-on-one coaching sessions. The first round of services will be rolled out during tax season through credit fairs and financial check-ups at volunteer tax preparation sites, said Sara Middendorf, the program manager for St. Louis Builds Credit.

“There are people who are already going to be there for the tax prep services that can also have the opportunity to get their credit report pulled for free and at no impact to their credit,” Middendorf said.

The St. Louis Builds Credit staff and trained volunteers will then go over their credit report and give them strategies for how to improve their score.

The pilot program, which began this month, will focus solely on the Gravios-Jefferson Historic Neighborhoods, which includes Benton Park West, northeast Dutchtown and Gravois Park. The area was chosen in part because of key survey and study findings from Rise Community Development. It also stood out because it’s the most densely populated zip code in the state, Woodruff said.

“One of the key components that came out of the Gravios-Jefferson Historic Neighborhoods plan was a request for financial services and the particular interventions and opportunities to build credit, so that people were better positioned to be able to purchase a home, gain better opportunities for employment, personal transportation, those types of things,” he said.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, credit is a barrier for 1 out of 5 adults in St. Louis.

Woodruff said one of the main problems is that many people don’t trust financial institutions. But he said fear shouldn’t intimidate people from looking at their credit scores.

“What you don’t know can hurt you financially,” he said, “and so, the biggest goal that we have through this initiative is to equip consumers with the knowledge that is going to allow them to overcome any difficulties they might have had in the past, or, if they’ve got a clean slate, to start off in the right direction.”