The Financial Journey is a unique series focused on financial education and opportunities. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between Wells Fargo and Word In Black.
When LaRese Purnell enters the classroom of a historically black college, he is equipped with budget templates, credit tips, and the resolve to shift how students interact with money. Well before earning a degree in accounting and corporate taxation, he lived in homeless shelters with his family. Though his mother was able to secure an apartment, she struggled to pay for basic utilities.
Purnell says his early understanding of money was through the lens of lack. “It was something that we didn’t talk about in our household because we were just in survival mode. I felt like the only program I had in place was life.”
Today, he is an ambassador for Our Money Matters, a $5.6 million initiative launched in 2020 to help reduce wealth disparities by equipping college students of color with financial knowledge and access. An initiative of the HBCU Community Development Action Coalition, it is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation.
The Our Money Matters online platform provides tools for managing finances in college and beyond. Within the past year and a half, Purnell and other financial professionals have traveled to the 26 participating colleges, complementing the online tools with in-person workshops and services.
“If we can hone in on them right now, we create a healthier opportunity for this particular individual to not only change their life, but their family’s life,” says Purnell.
For decades, systemic inequities have precipitated a wealth gap in the United States. According to a wealth gap analysis by the RAND Corporation, the median black household in America has about $24,000 in savings, investments, home equity, and other elements of wealth, compared to about $189,000 for the median white household. In a survey on the financial lives of young adults in particular, 34% of white and 29% of Asian American young adults said they would not be able to cover a $400 emergency expense. This is compared with 54% of black and 45% of Latinx respondents in the survey from GenForward and the Financial Health Network.
For many students, college is the first place where they become responsible for their finances. Ben-James Brown got his first credit card while in college. He used his full $500 credit limit and then called the creditor to ask for more money. Brown remembers, “They said, ‘Well, you have to pay this back before we give you more credit,’ and I said, ‘Well, you never told me that!’”
Now, as a financial health program manager for the Wells Fargo Foundation, he is certain of what many students’ needs are: building up credit, knowing their limits, and understanding disclosures. Brown says that HBCUs, in particular, are ideal spaces to work in because they are often resources for their local communities.
Purnell offered these tips for managing money, whether you’re in college or preparing to go to school.
- For every dollar, set aside 50 cents for your basic needs. Then, allot 20 cents toward your wants. Place the remaining 30 cents in savings and investments. “You can tell people that you’re going to save every dime you have,” Purnell says. “That’s not real for the average American. Even as you work hard, you can also have some fun in life, as well, if you balance it.”
Aim for an 800 credit score
- average credit score in the United States in 2022 was 714. Among traditional college-age people (ages 18-25), it was 679. Setting up regular credit card payments, and ensuring you have sufficient funds for each payment, can help you maintain healthy credit and avoid overpayment on interest and other charges.
One credit card is enough
- Just because you’re approved for multiple credit cards doesn’t mean that you need them. Starting out with one credit card is a great way to ease into paying off balances on time and avoiding debt.
Let debt be a myth
- Apply for scholarships and internships. If you’re pursuing graduate school, pursue as many opportunities as possible that will reduce your overall school debt. This includes working while in school or seeking out employers that will pay for your education.
Find more information about Our Money Matters at www.our-money-matters.org.