The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir (WN): Wealth Noir readers, we are so lucky to have Netiva Heard, “The Frugal CrediTnista,” join us today. She helps people boost their credit scores, change financial habits, and get on track to build wealth. Netiva, can you please tell our readers more about yourself?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Hi! I’m Netiva and I’m a Financial Educator, Certified Credit Counselor and Licensed Real Estate Broker. I own an online financial education services firm, MNH Financial Services, Inc. where we provide credit and money management services to over 700 clients a month. My husband and I also run an amazing online financial members club, Credit on Fire Academy, where we teach our members how to master their money, destroy their debts, and soar their credit scores, so they can begin leveraging [credit] to create wealth.
WN: Netiva, you have an amazing story. Before we dive into how you overcame being over half a million in debt, can you tell our readers how you got started in the personal finance space?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Sure, I’ve been a Realtor since 2004. I started while in college and entered the industry at an incredible time; the market was great. I served lower-middle income neighborhoods where often the number one thing standing in between them and the keys to their new homes was their high debt load and low credit scores. I was literally turning over 40% of my leads away because they didn’t qualify for a loan at the time.
I figured, if I could help them get mortgage-qualified in 12 months or less, then I could sell more homes. It worked! I ended up being the top realtor in my firm. It was going great until the Great Recession happened in 2008.
My income was cut by almost 60% in less than a year, and the lending guidelines that were already tight for my market had almost dried up completely. On top of that, in June of 2008, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and after my first surgery, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. We found ourselves over a half-million dollars in primarily medical debt and had to file bankruptcy in 2009. I was so devastated! Even after we filed for bankruptcy, we were still struggling because the money we were accustomed to and had built our lifestyle on had been reduced drastically. I had a choice of continuing to struggle in the real estate industry or to get a job. I got a job and hated every second of it!
A friend of mine told me about a colleague of ours who started a credit repair firm and was doing really well. If you can believe it, I was doing credit, budgeting and debt payoff plans for free even after I stopped doing real estate full-time. I literally sat there thinking “People really pay for this?” Because I had always been taught that we shouldn’t pay for credit repair and you should only go to a non-profit and credit repair companies were rip-offs. But I knew this person and he was far from shady, and, most importantly, I knew myself. I had already helped over 100 people over the years and they had gone on to purchase homes, investment properties, move across the country and improve their finances significantly because of my assistance. The thought of being able to do something that I was passionate about and earn a living while doing so was all I needed to hear.
The issue, however, was that our finances had just started getting back on track, and here I was talking about building a brand-new business. My husband was not on board.
Instead of lamenting about it, I put my budgeting skills to work, reduced our expenses even more, started my business as a side hustle, and quickly saved six months of our living expenses while pregnant with our second son.
In January of 2012, I gave birth and quit my job, and officially started our company in May of 2012.
I am so proud of what we have built and how we serve our community; it is truly unlike any other firm out there today!
WN: Wow Netiva, what an amazing story of triumph. Are you and your husband full-time entrepreneurs?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Yes, he actually joined me full time in January of 2018. He has all of the tech-savviness that I lack. Although I am seen as the ‘face’ of the company because I do the educating, he ensures that everything behind the scenes works smoothly and I so appreciate him for that. Things would truly look a hot mess if it were up to me, I don’t have a tech bone in my body!
I truly believe we balance each other out, because we do two separate, unique functions of the business. He loves learning new systems and processes and I love educating so it works.
WN: I know you and your husband have interesting ways you handle finances in your relationship. What is some advice you can give others in a relationship to help them stay on the same page financially?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Yes! When we first began our financial freedom journey, we were not on the same page at all. He believed that because he worked hard, he should be able to spend his money as he saw fit after our living expenses were paid. After having several heated arguments – one being at the checkout counter of our local Walmart – I decided to take a different approach.
I completely stopped talking about bills, savings, spending, and solely focused on our goals. What we wanted our lives to look like for our children, what retirement looks like for us, what we would do if we won a million dollars, where we would like to travel, how long he wanted to work, and more.
The more I spoke about our goals and our passions, the more he started to get into it. He then started to cut back, put more into our savings, and to even get on me about meal planning and not eating out so much.
As soon as I saw the shift, I brought our goals back into the conversation and began to rank them by when we would like to accomplish them. We became serious about how we wanted to live, our values, what was truly important to us, and what our passions and purpose were.
We wrote our values down, created a mission statement, and remain committed to spending on purpose and with purpose.
We took it a step further, and named our household Heard Enterprises. We figured that in order to stay on track in achieving our short- and long-term goals, we needed to run our household like a business with a mission statement, vision statement, list of household values, regular budgeting meetings, stellar record keeping and reviewing our target goals to see where we are and what needs to be done to ensure we meet them as planned.
What started out as a source of contention became something we thoroughly enjoy as we are now traveling the world and giving our children experiences that we had only dreamed of at their age.
WN: Netiva, you were helping people improve their credit so they could pursue homeownership. What made you expand that support to include a credit repair business, coaching and more?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Well, credit repair only impacts one area of our credit scores. There are 4 other areas and no amount of disputing will assist with that.
We need to get into credit management, credit usage, rebuilding strategies, budgeting, tactics to quickly eliminate consumer debt, how to generate additional income and more. I can tell you that even after being discharged from bankruptcy, I still had close to six figures worth of debt that I had to work on eliminating. That didn’t happen with just credit repair alone. I had to find additional streams of income, properly manage my money, and most importantly, I had to learn how to run my household – with my husband – as a business; we had to become dual CEOs.
Having experienced this personally, I knew I had to offer my community more than just credit repair.
WN: How can someone know they are working with a credible credit repair company? What are some things they can look for to confirm the company is legit and not a scam or fraudulent business just taking their money?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: A good company will be 100% transparent in all of their contact with you, and especially in their written contracts. They will be communicative, have proof of what they are doing on your behalf, and follow the guidelines within the Credit Repair Organizations Act to the letter. That means they will let you know that you can repair your credit on your own prior to enrolling you in their program. They should never promise you that they can remove an item from your credit reports. They also shouldn’t offer to create a new credit profile for you in order to give you a “fresh start,” charge you in advance for a service that has not been performed, or make promises of a specific credit score or outcome once you have completed their program.
I always tell my members and clients that if a company will not follow the guidelines of the federal government, what makes you think they will be morally and ethically responsible when servicing you?
I would also advise a consumer to know what level of support they truly need while working on improving their credit.If you know what you want, then it is easier to know who to hire, what to hire them for, and the level of service you desire and can afford. Be realistic in your expectations; many of these shady credit repair companies exist because they know that there are desperate consumers out there that are willing to pay for borderline or outright illegal services in order to improve their financial standing.
As for me and my firm, we thoroughly enjoy the outside of a jail cell and will never meet a consumer or a credit report that will ever justify jeopardizing that!
WN: Lol! Avoiding prison is a great reason to be an honest company. Thanks for those tips. What is your “why?” What keeps you motivated as a full-time entrepreneur?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: I grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Many of us rented our homes, purchased from local business owners who did not look like us, nor were they a member of our communities. They profited from us but were not invested in us. That did not sit well with me.
I sold homes to people in my community because I wanted us to own where we laid our heads every night.
I helped people improve their credit and overall finances because I know how important it is for us to learn how to properly manage the financial resources flowing into our households, so that we can be better prepared when great opportunities arise.
“Buying back the block” is about building community, our community. It’s about ownership, profit, wealth, prosperity, and growth of the African American dollar. This can only happen when we begin to manage our money wisely and use our credit as a means of leverage for investment in income-producing assets versus the acquisition of liabilities that hold zero value.
We MUST place ourselves in a financial position to own our communities versus rent them.
WN: Ok can you clarify something for our readers? Is it all about repairing your credit? Or are there other steps people need to take first if they really want to improve their finances?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Absolutely not. Credit is merely a reflection of how well we meet our financial obligations. So, if a person is desiring to have a permanent credit transformation, they would need to permanently transform their financial habits as well. At the root of this is ensuring you are budgeting, living below your means, avoiding consumer debt, paying all of your obligations when you get the statement or at the very latest by the due date, and more.
Our clients and members have found that when their financial habits improve, their credit begins to improve as well.
WN: Those are great tips. So, are you following the Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE) movement?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Not really. I totally believe in financial freedom; however, I am not trying to retire from a ‘job.’ When I speak with FIRE followers, they are usually employed, saving like crazy and delaying many exciting things that to me makes life worth living.
I, for one, have no plans on retiring anytime soon; my business is not only my passion, but it’s also my ministry! I couldn’t imagine not doing it anymore. I wake up every morning excitedly thinking of better ways to serve, teach and empower. If I couldn’t do this every day, my life would be incomplete.
Now, am I about living below my means, avoiding debt and saving? Yes! The Great Recession impacted a lot of people, including us, but a lot of millionaires were made, too. We made a promise to ourselves that if a recession came again, we would be the ones that were able to capitalize from it, rather than being impacted by it. We can only do this by saving, living below our means, increasing our income and ensuring we are not getting into debt unnecessarily.
WN: What does financial freedom mean to you? What steps are you taking to achieve financial freedom in your life?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Financial freedom is peace of mind, freedom of choice in all areas of your life and being able to live the happiest, most satisfying life as possible.
Because we hit rock bottom in our early 30s, we have spent the past 8+ years rebuilding. This includes saving a little over 20% of our income, acquiring rental properties, investing and constantly seeking ways to increase our income in our businesses.
The more income we can generate without actively having to work for it, the better.
Being that I’ve had a health scare, “living” is super important to me as well. I’m a foodie who enjoys her weekend margaritas and dinner dates. We love traveling and make it a point to take a minimum of 2 international and 2 domestic vacations a year, excluding visits to out-of-town family members.
Being able to show our children parts of the world that we only read about in school textbooks is very important to us as well.
Being able to fully live your life without having to think about how your bills are going to get paid, or if you’ll be able to retire when you desire, or if your children will have everything they need now and in the future, is true financial freedom.
WN: What is the most common question you get asked by your followers and clients?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: I have a free Facebook community, and a common question I get asked is “Where do I get started fixing my credit?”
Many credit professionals will go into pulling reports, and what items they can dispute, and what should be reporting. However, they forget the most important question of all: “What goals are you trying to accomplish?”
Credit, like money, is a tool. Its purpose is to help you save, own and build.
Many approach credit and credit repair as a means to get or buy something and then they toss it to the side once they’ve acquired it. This means that every time they are looking to achieve a financial goal, they have to start rebuilding their credit all over again!
Building and maintaining a high credit score is an integral part of our overall financial foundation. This means that we should be discussing our financial goals and how credit plays an integral role in accomplishing our goals.
This also helps us, as credit professionals, to create a custom credit building strategy that supports our client’s overall objectives.
WN: If you could flip a switch and get everyone to do one thing related to their personal finances, what would it be?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Budget and live below their means. I’ve had so many clients that actually made a decent income, but their income was going towards a high car note, debt payments or high living expenses. If I could flip a switch and everyone would make wiser, well-thought-out financial decisions while living below their means and properly managing their money, that would be amazing!
WN: Are there any exciting products or offers you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Netiva “The Frugal CrediTnista” Heard: Yes! A popular inquiry we’ve been receiving in our Credit on Fire Academy is how to begin teaching kids about finances. The number one comment I hear is “I was never taught about finances while I was growing up.” So, naturally, as our members begin deepening their financial knowledge, they want to know how to begin passing this information on to their children in a way that is easy for them to understand.
We’ve recently created a “Legacy Kid’s Corner” inside of our Academy for this very purpose. We are mapping out courses for our members to teach their children about goal setting, budgeting, credit, entrepreneurship and more! We even have children who are money savvy and entrepreneurs coming in to do live lessons for members’ children to participate in. We’re super excited about it because if we could have had these lessons while we were growing up, our early-adult lives would have been completely different.
Now our members will have the opportunity to receive the financial education they need to begin improving their financial lives and crushing their financial goals while simultaneously instilling in their children’s financial knowledge so that they can avoid the many mistakes that we made growing up.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.