Making 'adjustments' not so easy for federal workers

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE in response to concerns about Federal workers not receiving their paychecks said, "I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they’ll make adjustments.” In spite of this rosy assessment, the ease of making “adjustments” for many Americans is actually not easy at all.  

Many American households, particularly those that are low-income, require credit to weather economic shocks such as unexpected expenses (i.e. car repair) or a sudden loss of a job or in the case of a furlough—a job without a paycheck. Obviously, access to credit helps people manage the unexpected expenses that are a part of life. But what if you can’t access credit?

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Experian research estimates that there are 64 million consumers with limited credit history to no credit history that are unscoreable or “credit invisibles.” Additionally, more than half (56 percent) of U.S. consumers have low credit scores, ranging from 500-649.

Whether we like it or not, a good credit history is crucial in today’s economy. Far more than just a number, a good credit score is a prerequisite for accessing everyday financial products like a credit card, a personal loan or auto financing.  However, those with no or a poor credit score have limited prospects.

Credit is a marvelous tool to weather income fluctuations but if you cannot qualify for a credit card or an affordable and responsible personal loan, you may be forced to resort to high cost predatory loan products, such as payday loans. This often results in the consumer being pushed into an unsustainable cycle of debt, often paying two or three times the amount of the original loan in fees alone before it is fully repaid. This exacerbates their family’s financial instability and creates overwhelming psychological and physical stress.

These limited options may seem foreign to those Americans who have a wallet full of credit cards. It may seem unbelievable that credit is not readily available for all. However, for those Americans with no credit or bad credit histories, this reality is all too real.

For them, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management guidance to help affected workers negotiate with creditors and mortgage companies may be their only recourse. One letter suggesting “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments” is one such option.

Alternatively, perhaps landlords will be swayed by Trump’s pronouncement that he believes landlords and vendors should go “nice and easy” on federal workers who have to forego their paychecks. This appeal may emotionally influence a property owner but then the reality of the property owner’s own commitment to pay their mortgage holder might intervene.

Credit Builders Alliance (CBA)’s over 500 non-profit members serve primarily low to modest income clients who are predominantly minority. For the most part, they are either credit invisible or have subprime credit scores. CBA works every day to help these people build a credit history and consequently have access to the credit economy. Building a strong credit history can change lives but absent this attainment, people will struggle to access credit. And, when income stoppages enter the equation, the real “adjustments” they may need to make will be much more severe than just selling some stocks to pay their rent.  

Dara Duguay is the CEO of Credit Builders Alliance. Prior to joining CBA, she was the director of Citigroup’s Office of Financial Education and founding executive director of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.