Family Climbs Back From the Financial Brink
March 31, 2015
A knock echoed through the house. LeAnn Bennett pushed herself out of bed and staggered to the front door. It was the middle of the night.
“I need the keys to your van,” said a man standing in the dark doorway. He wore a tow truck uniform and explained that he had been sent to repossess her family’s van.
LeAnn’s husband Ron came to the door. Looking past the tow truck driver, Ron saw a dry spot on the driveway where the van had been, now darkening in a cold rain.
The Bennetts had excellent credit until about five years ago. Their hometown of Hoquiam, Washington is a logging town, and logging is a tumultuous industry. “Mill strikes and mill closures plagued our marriage,” said LeAnn, “like a lot of people in our hometown.” Five years ago Ron lost his job, the fourth job loss in 24 years of marriage.
LeAnn juggled bills and expenses and searched high and low for solutions. Sleepless night followed sleepless night as she turned over all the challenges in her head. “When finances spiral out of control and so does the credit rating, there isn’t much hope in making things better,” she said.
“We’d lived in this town our whole lives,” she said, “we both had great jobs, but our credit was so low no one would even look at us.”
For all outward appearances, LeAnn’s family still looked great. She and Ron both had good jobs. They had a nice house and two cars. They all had smartphones.
What people couldn’t see from the outside was that their house was going into foreclosure. They only got their van back with help from LeAnn’s parents. And they owed $6,000 to the IRS and $1,400 to a payday lender.
They were behind on their truck payment and all their utility bills, and their electricity was about to be shut off. Creditors were calling so much that LeAnn stopped picking up the phone.
One time Ron applied for a Cabela’s credit card to buy his son a gift. They were giving away free coffee mugs to everyone who applied. The man at the counter said he couldn’t issue Ron a card, but that he could keep the mug. “It was so embarrassing,” said Ron.
The Bennetts were facing bankruptcy as the option of last resort. “But that’s just not me,” said LeAnn. “Plus, it’s a small town—the newspaper here prints everything.”
Around this time LeAnn started to notice an ad on the radio. She heard it on her way to work, in the office, and on her commute home. In the ad a man and a woman talk about their financial struggles, about relying on payday loans and being turned away at big banks.
“This ad was talking about exactly how my life was,” she said. The ad was for Newrizons Federal Credit Union, and ended with the couple sharing how Newrizons helped them find firm financial footing again.
“We have no more payday loans. We have savings for the first time. Last year the IRS refunded us $7,000. And our credit score has gone from 529 to 701.”
— LeAnn Bennett, Newrizons Federal Credit Union Member
LeAnn had known Terri Fultz, former Newrizons CEO and current Senior Officer, her “whole life.” And LeAnn’s son-in-law’s mother was on the board at Newrizons and had recommended to LeAnn that she go to Newrizons’ new CEO Ynette Gibbs for financial counseling.
“That first session was terrifying,” said Ron. The Bennetts realized that they were putting money towards things that made them happy in the short run, while neglecting the big, important, meaningful things, like their house and cars and electricity.
Newrizons’ financial counseling taught them how to budget, and the credit union made them a consolidation loan.
“We’ve made our house payment on time for one year and eight months,” LeAnn said. “All our bills are on autopay, and all on time. We’re paying ahead on our two auto loans. We’re paying ahead on our consolidation loan from Newrizons. We’re even paying ahead on a consolidation loan at TwinStar that my parents took out for us.”
It wasn’t easy, LeAnn said. They had to make sacrifices. The first birthday present she got from Ron after their financial counseling was a receipt from Sears. He had made a payment on their Sears card.
But it’s been worth it, they said. “I used to lay awake at night and worry about my finances,” said LeAnn. “Now I sleep like a baby.”
“And I don’t see her crying a lot,” said Ron.
Recently they made their first big purchase since their Newrizons counseling. They bought a new Jeep Cherokee. “In the olden days,” said LeAnn, “we would have gotten the top of the line Grand Cherokee. But instead we paid half the price.”
They approached the purchase thoughtfully, budgeting out what they might have to give up in order to afford the payment. And, Ron laughed, “I was thinking as we were buying it, should we check with Ynette on this so we don’t get in trouble?”
The credit unions of Oregon and Washington not only improve their members’ lives, they are foundational to the entire Northwest economy. Learn more here.
Posted in Article Post.