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Achieving Financial Freedom

There are many things that I am proud of when it comes to my tenure as president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions, but none more so than our commitment to diversity and inclusion – since day one.

VantageScore was launched in part based on the premise that the current system ignored millions of consumers who were marginalized because they handled their financial lives differently than the mainstream population. Recognizing this and knowing that lenders were eager to reach these consumers, our models scored millions more consumers and we now score approximately 40 million more consumers than conventional models, including approximately 10 million African- and Hispanic- American consumers who otherwise would be relegated to “credit invisibles” (i.e., unscoreable), of which 2.4 million score a 620 or higher.

We also are committed to a diverse workforce with women and minorities serving throughout the company including in the most senior roles. Additionally, we provide support for many of the country’s most effective advocates of diverse populations, and we are committed to overcoming any obstacles that are prohibiting consumers from achieving the American Dream.

That’s why I am incredibly pleased to share with you our next step in this important area, which is a partnership with HomeFree-USA, the largest black-owned housing counseling organization in America.

Our program will accomplish the following:

  • VantageScore Scholarship Program – develop a scholarship program initially at seven of the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • HomeFree-USA’s Center for Financial Advancement (CFA) ‐ provide support for CFA, which enrolls approximately 30 elite HCBU students annually into financial education and future job placement curriculum.
  • Educational Training ‐ provide financial literacy education and presentations to more than 30,000 Black students and faculty at the initial seven HBCUs (adding four more in the 2021 school year)
  • Internship Program ‐ facilitate a paid internship program for students from HBCUs who are seeking careers in data science, predictive analytics, or financial marketing.

Included in this month’s newsletter are further details.

I am so excited for this program to get underway. I am also really proud of the VantageScore team for addressing such an important issue head-on in a way that our company can have real and lasting impact.

Analytics, data science and statistics are all going to be critical functions of a global economy. And because VantageScore is a leader in this space, we want to inspire the next generation and create viable pathways for those attending these universities who have an interest in pursuing a career in these fields.

I’d like to personally thank my friend Marcia Griffin, president and founder of HomeFree-USA, and her inspiring team for their partnership.

Regards,

Barrett Burns

CEO and President, VantageScore Solutions

HomeFree-USA and VantageScore Partner to Expand Opportunity and Prepare HBCU Students for Financial Success

Through financial assistance and other resources, a new partnerhsip with HomeFree-USA and VantageScore will help increase career opportunities and financial education for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HomeFree-USA announced a new partnership with credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions, LLC, to introduce students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to opportunities in the mortgage and real estate finance industry, by way of HomeFree-USA’s Center for Financial Advancement® (CFA). This partnership will aid in providing credit education and financial knowledge, in addition to scholarship and program funding, to students and HBCUs around the country.

The new partnership aims to expand diversity and inclusion in the financial services, mortgage, credit and real estate finance industries, educate HBCU students about credit and credit scores, prepare African American college students for careers through internships and training and elevate the financial stature and homeownership potential of students, faculty, parents and community residents. Through these efforts, HomeFree-USA and VantageScore Solutions will work to address larger issues within the financial and mortgage industry, including the home ownership gap that impacts many minorities.

“Partnering with VantageScore will allow students attending HBCUs the opportunity to build their money management and leadership skills, while they learn about credit and building wealth,” said Marcia Griffin, president of HomeFree-USA. “As the largest Black Owned Housing Counseling organization in America, we strongly believe in the role of education to bridge financial strength and career success for people of color across America.”

As a part of the initiative, VantageScore is establishing an annual scholarship program to recognize and award HBCU students and schools. Funds from the scholarship program will help students continue their studies and will help financial education and leadership programs continue to impact and educate more students on their campuses. The allocation of scholarship funds is being considered on a case-by-case basis, in close collaboration with each school, to ensure funds are being used to create meaningful impact for individuals and programs.

As an example, the VantageScore scholarship program is supporting the newly formed Residential Leadership Community (RLC) program at Fort Valley State University – a program at that University that currently supports, trains and counsels 26 student leaders on campus. The financial support from this partnership will help the RLC program to continue to support the growth and development of current and emerging student leaders, despite the financial impact of COVID-19 on the program.

“We strongly believe in expanding diversity and inclusion within the financial industry and growing the next generation of leaders,” said Barrett Burns, CEO and president of VantageScore Solutions. “VantageScore is committed to putting our beliefs into action by creating this new scholarship program to help expand opportunities in our field and increase financial knowledge and leadership skills for students at HBCUs.”

As these efforts continue to evolve, HomeFree-USA and VantageScore Solutions will share periodic updates regarding the status of the program and its impact.

About HomeFree-USA
HomeFree-USA is a leading nonprofit homeownership development and financial empowerment organization. Over its 25-year history HomeFree-USA has produced more than 10,000 first time homebuyers and enjoys a 0% foreclosure rate among the homeowners it has prepared for homeownership. As a HUD Intermediary, HomeFree-USA oversees a nationwide network of 53 community and faith-based nonprofit homeownership development agencies. Learn more at HomeFreeUSA.org.

What If My Retailer Has Gone Out of Business?

By John Ulzheimer

One of the unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the large number of retailers that have permanently closed their doors. If you’re a loyal patron of these stores then you’re going to have to search elsewhere for similar goods and services. And, if you have one of their store credit cards, there are likely to be repercussions to your credit reports and possibly your credit scores.

Retailers are rarely their own issuing credit card bank. Meaning, just because you have a credit card with a retail store’s logo and color scheme, it’s unlikely the retail chain is actually the credit card issuer. Most retailers forge partnerships with credit card issuers who will then issue branded retail store credit cards on their behalf. For example, if you have a credit card with Rooms to Go, Abercrombie & Fitch, Discount Tire, Arhaus, Lowe’s, Conn’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Mattress Firm, or hundreds of other well-known retailers you likely have an account with either Comenity Bank or Synchrony Bank. If you have a credit card with either The Home Depot or Costco, you actually have an account with Citibank.

None of the aforementioned retailers are out of business. They’re simply listed to illustrate the point that retailers are not usually their own credit card’s issuer. Unfortunately, not all well-known retailers are as fortunate as many have closed up shop. For example, Lord & Taylor and Stein Mart are going out of business and all Pier 1 rewards credit card accounts will be closed on October 30, 2020.

How Does This Impact My Credit Reports and Scores?

When a credit card is closed, regardless of the reason, the card issuer will report to the credit reporting companies that that account has been “closed by creditor.” That notation is not considered to be negative by any credit scoring systems so there’s nothing to worry about in that respect.

But, there are two aspects of the closure of which you should become aware. The first has to do with the age of the credit card account and the second has to do with the card’s credit limit.

When a credit card is closed, it is still included on your credit reports. It doesn’t simply disappear just because it has been closed. In fact, the three credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union) will maintain inactive accounts for up to 10 years. This is favorable to the cardholder as your credit scores will still benefit from the age of the account, which continues to age even when it is closed.

There is a credit scoring myth that suggests you lose the value of the age of an account once it has been closed. This is incorrect. Closed accounts are still calculated into the “age”-related metrics of your credit scores, as long as the account is still on your credit reports.

When an account has been closed, either by you or the card issuer, you will no longer be able to use the line of credit or credit limit. And, credit scores may likely ignore the unused credit limit of your card once it has been closed. This can lead to a lower score especially if your card had a large credit limit and no balance, which is favorable to your credit scores as it helps you to maintain a lower balance-to-credit limit utilization ratio.

You can determine just how much your utilization ratio is going to spike by doing some simple math. Pull your credit report/s, which you can do for free at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Add up the balances on all of your credit card accounts and the credit limits on all of your open credit cards, including retail cards. Divide the sum of the balances by the sum of your limits. That’s your revolving utilization ratio. You want that percentage to be as low as possible.

Now do the same math again but this time do not include the limit from retail cards that you fear may end up being closed. Unless none of your cards are going to be closed, your revolving ratio went up. If it went up too much, then your scores will suffer.

How Can I Protect My Scores?

Most retail store cards have relatively low credit limits. As such, even if you card issuer closes your account it might not be that big of an issue from a credit scoring perspective. But, if you have large balances on other cards and had a large limit on one or more newly closed retail cards, your scores can definitely go down.

You can protect your scores a variety of ways. First, you can pay down your credit card balances. That’s the smartest way to protect your scores because you’re also going to save money in interest fees.You can also open a new credit card account. The limit of the newly opened card will help to mitigate the damage because the new credit limit would be considered immediately when your credit scores are calculated. Just be careful not to run up too much of a balance,. or you’re going to net out the new card’s value to your scores.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (credit expert John Ulzheimer) and not necessarily those of VantageScore Solutions, LLC.

 

5 QUESTIONS with economist Odeta Kushi

As deputy chief economist for First American Financial Corporation, a leading provider of title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions for real estate transactions, Odeta Kushi prepares analysis, commentary and forecasts on trends in the real estate and mortgage markets.

Kushi conducts research around demographic trends, millennials and homeownership. She also monitors and analyzes quarterly surveys and economic data related to the housing industry. Her research has been published in leading business and industry trade publications, such as Business Insider, HousingWire and Inman News.

Kushi graduated from Northeastern University with a master’s degree in Applied Economics, specializing in microeconomics and applied econometric methods, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from St. John Fisher College, in both cases earning the title of Summa Cum Laude. While originally from Albania, she now lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area.

1.  Some believe the country is headed towards a recession while others believe there will be a bounce back in the next few quarters. What are your thoughts?

Data shows that the U.S. economy hit bottom in the second quarter, so GDP growth in the third quarter will benefit from a low base, but concerns remain about the sustainability of the recovery beyond that. Challenges in the economy and the labor market are expected to persist for some time, especially as we’ve seen an increase in the number of permanent job losses increase. The increase in permanent job losses points to longer-term unemployment and prolonged economic recovery.

2.  Relative to the housing market, mortgage volumes are at near record levels. Do you expect there to be a continued boom, a flattening, or a decline in mortgage volume in the next year?

The housing market rebound has been driven by continued demographic demand, low mortgage rates, and a labor market decline that has so far left would-be home buyers largely unscathed, and instead hit younger, lower wage renters. The boost in purchase applications is largely a result of a delayed spring home-buying season combined with the aforementioned factors.

However, localized affordability demand shocks should be expected if the pace of the labor market recovery slows. The housing market has displayed immunity to the economic impacts of the coronavirus so far, but as with the virus itself, we are not sure if immunity lasts forever.

3.  Are there any vulnerable aspects of the U.S. economy that have been exposed during this pandemic?

While the residential real estate market has proven resilient in the face of economic uncertainty, the same cannot be said of all commercial segments, specifically retail. The retail sector has been the hardest hit during this services-driven recession, prompting mass closures and even causing some national retailers to file for bankruptcy. The decline in retail preceded the pandemic, as the growth of e-commerce put downward pressure on the sector, but the pandemic is adding fuel to an already slow-burning fire.

4.  Since the start of Covid, there has been a share of homeowners claiming forbearance. Does this mean we can except a flood of foreclosures?

Forbearance does not equal foreclosure and focusing on mortgage delinquency rates alone ignores the dual trigger responsible for foreclosure – economic hardship and lack of equity. Even if a homeowner faces an income shock, with enough equity, a homeowner has the option of selling the home, or those with stable incomes can tap into their equity through a refinance to help weather the economic shock. Today, the household debt-to-income ratio is at a four-decade low and household equity near a three-decade high. While some foreclosures are still likely to happen, high household income can negate the second of the two triggers necessary for a foreclosure. 

5.  Considering first-time homeowners are key to the mortgage industry’s health, what are your thoughts on shifting homeowner demographics and how the industry is adopting to those trends?

Millennials are the largest generational group we’ve ever seen – they are tech-savvy, racially and ethnically diverse, and more educated than their generational predecessors. With the bulk of the millennials turning 30 this year and aging into their prime-home buying years, home-buying demand will be driven by this generation for the foreseeable future.  Millennials expect greater efficiency and convenience in their home-buying experience, and the industry is responding by investing in financial technology to streamline the efficiency of the mortgage process. Similarly, the majority of millennials begin their home search online and need ways to visualize a home, even before they step through the front door. The industry has adapted well in creating technologies such as virtual walkthroughs, 3-D mapping and drone surveys.

Entering 2020, we were anticipating a demographic tailwind to demand as millennials begin to age into their prime home-buying years, making the decision to settle down and start a family. These lifestyle changes persist, and the shelter-in-place orders have even accelerated the pre-pandemic trend of millennial migration to lower density suburbs, as households are in search of more space. Builders are responding, as evidenced by the growth of single-family construction in more suburban and exurban communities.

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