Young Black Women, Financially Free

Experts at Essence Conference Share Tips on Saving and Building Wealth

Lynn Richardson astonished listeners when she told them that she used to spend her $2,000 paycheck on unnecessary items in one weekend. Richardson, a real estate expert and author of “Check to Monday,” was one of the speakers at the 2008 Essence Young Women’s Leadership Conference held recently at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.

Credit card applications swarm students the day they reach the age of 18, warned Richardson and other panelists at the forum titled “Set for Life: Your Fast Track to Financial Control.” She pressed the young women to avoid debt by leaving credit and debit cards at home and spending only the amount allotted in their budgets, using cash.

Harriene Freeman, CEO of H.E Freeman Enterprises Credit Repair Counseling and Personal Financial Services, also shared her experience of graduating from college with more than $20,000 in credit card debt.

“Too many students leave college thousands of dollars in debt,” Freeman stated. “We need to be educated about financial well-being before it is too late.”

Whether it is applying for loans, choosing a college within your financial reach or maintaining a household budget, the 2008 Essence Young Women’s Leadership Conference was the place to learn about financial control. The conference, which also stopped in Atlanta, included workshops and panels led by a team of professionals who spoke to 1,500 young women aiming to educate them about handling money and college expenses.

The business professionals, students, entertainment figures and journalists in attendance included Lauren Lake, a lawyer and television host; Dr. Andrea Pennington, an integrative medicine physician, acupuncturist and author; Lola Ogunnaike of CNN’s “American Morning”; Vanessa and Angela Simmons, owners of Pastry Shoes; Jeffery Johnson, political motivator and correspondent for Black Entertainment Television; and singer Brandon Hines.

During the “Set for Life” forum, moderated by Tanisha Sykes, personal finance and career editor at Essence Magazine, the discussion ranged from avoiding credit card to purchasing stocks, obtaining loans and saving funds. “Exhaust all free money possibilities through grants, scholarships and federal financial aid packages; making loans one’s last option,” Jason Calhoun of the Sallie Mae Fund advised.

Delaware State University student Michelle Kelper informed the panel that she had the opposite problem of most; she had no loans or credit cards during her college years and now fears that her lack of credit history would hinder her during her search for a home or a vehicle. Panelists referred Kelper to Pay Rent, Build Credit Inc., which allows consumers to demonstrate their creditworthiness simply by paying rent and other bills on time. They also pointed out that a FHA mortgage, which offers lower interest rates, down payments and closing costs, does not require a credit history.

But more importantly, students expressed that they needed help differentiating between wants and needs. The room filled with laughter when Richardson stated: “You have Coach bags. and you have Target bags. If you cannot keep $300 in your purse at one time, then you need to stick to Tarjay chic.” Richardson stressed that credit card usage should be carefully monitored and used frequently enough only to help build one’s credit.

Looking toward the future Ionnie McNeil, a junior finance major at Howard University and owner of Speak 2 Share, reminded attendees of the importance of savings accounts, retirement funds and investing in stocks.

“Buy $20 stock in several stable and promising companies that you use daily,” McNeil stated. “In four years you may have accumulated over $2,000 by simply clicking a button.”

Bianca Nelson, a sophomore political science major from Hampton University in Virginia, said the conference was beneficial.

“I feel empowered and believe I can have it all,” Nelson said, “not because my president looks like me, but because of this conference and the way it showcased powerful black women making a difference.”