Aspiration & Struggle

Financial Tips From Expert Tonya Rapley: How One Millennial Turned Her Finances From Drab to Fab

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Missed payments, broken leases, and collection letters all contributed to Tonya Rapley’s low credit score, which at its worst, hovered around 540 points.

TonyaRapley.jpegYour credit score can influence whether you get approved for an apartment or a loan, and it can even affect potential employment. As the standard representation of your creditworthiness, this three-digit number can determine much of your financial life.

Tonya knew she had to turn things around when her credit score was limiting her possibilities and, in her words, “holding me back from being an adult.” After that turning point, she invested herself wholeheartedly in repairing her credit. In a short 18 months, she had improved her credit score by a whopping 130 points.

Tonya is so passionate about personal finance that she became certified in financial education, and she now coaches others on their credit repair journey and gives regular talks on best practices for personal finance. She was recently named the “New Face of Wealth Building” by Black Enterprise magazine.

We chatted with Tonya about how she improved her credit and what financial tips she has for other Millennials.

After struggling with your finances, you were able to improve your credit score by 130 points in just 18 months. What financial tips do you have for people in a similar situation?

The most important thing for me was really learning how credit worked. That included the understanding that not only did I need to pay on time, but that I needed to keep my balances below 30 percent [of the credit limit]. I was able to do it myself. So many people are capable of doing it themselves, yet they pay someone else. There are fantastic forums and blogs out there to get advice from, including mine.

Millennials manage a lot of financial priorities, such as student loan debt, savings, etc. What advice would you give to someone trying to improve their finances?

In my opinion, it’s all important. Initially, I didn’t save as much as I should have because I wanted so badly to pay off my debts. But it’s extremely important to save. Not only does this come in handy if an emergency occurs, but saving regularly teaches you discipline, which is important for maintaining healthy finances. Get a good handle on your budget and cut back in areas that you might be overspending in. That money saved can be used toward investing, and it’s important for Millennials to make good use of their age advantage when it comes to investing.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned since turning your finances around and teaching others to do the same?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Many people improve their finances only to find themselves back in trouble down the line because they didn’t address the root causes of their situation.

Snowball (focusing on lowest balance) or avalanche (focusing on highest interest) for debt repayment

It depends. I’m a fan of both and have implemented both strategies depending on my circumstances.

Cash or credit?

Credit paid off promptly with cash. (I’m a rewards junkie.)

Favorite financial tool

Microsoft Excel.

Your money philosophy in one sentence:

Money is a tool that can work for you or against you; spend wisely.

If you want to learn more about Tonya Rapley and her journey, follow her blog at My Fab Finance.

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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and passionate debt fighter who writes at DearDebt.com. She is currently climbing out of $81,000 in student loan debt and is often dreaming of her next adventure. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Rockstar Finance, GoGirl Finance and more. She has her M.A. in Performance Studies from NYU, loves karaoke, is obssessed with the Wizard of Oz, and is a ceviche connoisseur.