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Immigrant's Credit Score Goes from 0 to 701 Thanks to Nonprofit Program

By Wendell Hutson | April 12, 2013 6:27am

SOUTH SHORE — A year ago, Englewood resident Nigel Williams had a credit score of 0 — and huge hurdles to climb in finding a job or buying a home.

Williams had moved to Chicago three years ago from Jamaica, where "you could use cash for everything and did not need a credit card," said Williams, who never had a bank account or even applied for credit. "But I quickly learned once I came to America that credit is a must over here."

But today, Williams' credit score is 701 — thanks to The Center for Working Families at Kennedy-King College. He has four bank accounts and a Visa with a $3,000 credit limit.

"In less than a year I had good credit. And I plan on keeping it that way, too," he said. "My wife wants us to buy a house and that's what we are going to do."

Vincent Perry, a financial coach at the center, said Williams was the beneficiary of the center's Twin Accounts program, which helps dozens of residents "establish or improve their credit standing." Perry said Williams "is certainly one of our success stories."

Through the center, which is part of the Metropolitan Family Services, program participants are given a $300 loan through a partnership with a non-profit financial help group in St. Louis, justine PETERSEN. The participants pay on-time fees of about $27 and make monthly payments of $26.24 for a year.

For every payment the participant pays on time, the center sets aside $25. Once the loan is paid off, that pot of money is used to help secure a credit card. But if the participant does not get approval for a credit card, then the money can be used toward paying off any existing debt the participant has.

Perry said the center sends payments directly to the creditor, not to the participant in the program.

All these steps help those in the program establish positive lines of credit and bill payment history.

"Payments are reported to the credit bureau, which helps a participant improve their overall credit score," Perry said. "Usually it takes a year before a person starts to see a change on their [credit] report but Nigel did it in six months."

Williams' credit score went from 0 in March 2012 to 668 in June and 701 in January.

Williams said he is grateful for the program.

"I never knew how important it was to have credit. You need credit to get hired for some jobs and that shocked me," added Williams, who is taking GED classes at Kennedy-King, where he learned about the program.

Williams, who works part-time at the fast-food eatery Royal Caribbean Jerk at 2126 E. 71st St., expects to have his GED (from Kennedy-King College) by next year and hopes to eventually get a job as a chef.

"It feels good to be financially secure," the father of three and grandfather of five said. "You know American women want a man to have his 'own' and be able to do something for himself. And now I am doing that."