Matt Bolinder still remembers the day he first saw his credit score. “At the time, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, was working with me and we went on Credit Karma. I got incredibly emotional. It was like a gut punch seeing my score and seeing it not change for six months after,” he said. “My credit was basically the equivalent of a Major League Baseball player’s average and I was not up for hitter of the year.”
Bolinder, who now works as a retail development officer for First Citizens’ Federal Credit Union, says his low score was the result of never having anyone to talk to about the importance of credit and how to build it. Once he learned the basics of credit building, within three years, his score was over 700.
“I was able to buy a house,” he said. “I was fortunate in that I had someone talk to me about what credit is, why it’s important, how to positively affect it, and what negatively affects credit. Mine nearly doubled within three years.”
Today, Bolinder is using that personal experience to help guide 20 Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program clients in boosting their credit through a new initative Housing Assistance launched last year. Working with FSS Coordinator Jan Nelson, the pair designed the Credit Builder Program that has been funded through a $10,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
In January of last year, each of the 20 clients received a $500 loan from First Citizens’ Federal Credit Union which they are asked to repay in 24 monthly installments of $22.19. Each month, the credit union reports back to the credit bureau that clients have made an on-time payment on their loan which boosts their credit score. “At the end of the24 months, they get their $500 back and a bonus of $500,” Nelson said.
The program has witnessed a 95 percent success rate with 19 of the FSS clients making progress towards improving their credit score. That includes one client who had no credit history prior to entering the program. Slowly as he made his monthly payments, that client built up his credit to the point it is now at 730.
“His exuberance and excitement and enthusiasm about it is exactly the reason I do this,” Bolinder said.
As someone who grew up in a single-parent household and whose mother received a Section 8 voucher through Housing Assistance that enabled his family to live on Cape Cod, Bolinder said, “I personally feel indebted to Housing Assistance which is why I love working with them.”
Over the years, he has served as a Big Fix-A-Thon volunteer and a Telethon for Hope phone fundraiser. The Credit Builder Program has given him another avenue to give back to an agency that has positively impacted his life.
“One of the coolest things I’m able to offer is my time,” Bolinder said. “I can show clients my credit history, my credit score, what I was doing, and what I did to change it. My story gives people hope at the end of the day that if somebody has the drive and determination and you give them some hope, they can run with it forever.”
Based on the success of the Housing Assistance pilot program, DHCD is now expanding it to other nonprofits throughout the state.