Karen Joyce Gurley
MAJOR CATEGORY WINNER: The decisions you make dictate the life you live

Introduction The phrase, "the decisions you make dictate the life you live" was first introduced to me when I was a teenager watching a silly comedy movie. I don't remember the title of the movie nor do I remember the story line. Even though at the time, the phrase didn't mean much; I never forgot it. Many years later well into my adulthood when I was purchasing my first home, the meaning of that statement hit me like a brick in the head!


Background Growing up I was a dreamer. I always had aspirations of being successful and making my family proud of me. I'd plan to attend college after high school and go on to graduate school after college. I wanted a job that would pay me "a lot" of money where I could buy whatever I wanted. However, what I did not know was that the amount of money in my pocket or in my bank account was not the only resource for buying things. I did not know about credit!

Well after high school, I went on to college and during my freshman year I was introduced to the opportunity to get my first credit card. Now, this seems like it would have been a good thing for me but, it wasn't because I was not aware of the responsibilities that come with owning credit cards. Matter of fact, I was not aware of the responsibilities of any type of credit i.e. school loans, car loans, or bank loans. I was so excited! I saw it as a chance to get free money; a way to buy things without cash. I knew I had to pay the money back but I did not know the importance of paying it back on time.

Through out my college years, I accumulated several credit cards including gas cards, department store cards, and bank cards. I used them for everything thinking I had no spending limits. Of course, I paid them late and even sometimes I didn't pay them at all. By the time I'd graduated, I had accumulated several thousand dollars of debt and a bad credit score.

After graduating, I held a few jobs before going to graduate school. I made good money and earned pay increases along the way. However, I had bad credit that followed me along the way too. Because of my bad credit score, it was hard for me to rent an apartment, get utilities, and have a phone turned on in my name. In order for me to get these things, I had to pay more money then they were worth. Meaning, I had to pay extra money in the form of deposits and interest. At this time in my life, I began to realize that having money in the bank was not enough. I realized I also needed to have good credit.

By the time I entered graduate school, I was also trying to repair my credit by paying off old debts and getting high interest loans just so that I could pay them back on time in order to show a track record of paying bills on time. In the process of learning how to repair my credit score, I discovered that timing was a very important part of the process and time was also something I had no control of. I learned that it would take a minimum of seven year to repair my credit and that during those seven years I could never miss a payment or pay late. It was like being on probation for seven years.

Professional issue Since then I have restored my credit score and learned many valuable lessons along the way. For example, a credit score is used to determine the strength of your character. It helps the lender determine whether or not she can trust you to pay the loan back and pay it back on time. A credit score is not only used by lenders, it is also used by insurance companies, service providers such as wireless companies for wireless contracts, and employers. After restoring my credit and continuing to grow in my career, I no longer have to worry about companies checking my credit score before deciding whether or not to hire me. My confidence is high and I feel good about myself because I know that my credit is good and that people will not negatively judge me because of my credit score.

As I talk to other women about their experiences, I've learned that it is not uncommon for girls not to know about credit management and the responsibilities of having credit. I realize there is a need to educate our young girls and because of this need I have written the book Credit ABCs for Girls - Inspiring Positive Credit Responsibility for Life.

Personal issue During my credit restoration years, it hit me ... Decisions You Make Dictate The Life You Live ... I finally knew what this statement meant. Because of the poor decisions I made when it came to my credit cards, I had to live a hard, expensive, and stressful life due to enormous debt that could have been avoided had I been educated. For example, when I purchased my first home, the bank was concerned about my credit score and because I had a bad payment history, I had to pay several thousand dollars more in interest for my loan compared to a person who had good credit. Had I known that my credit score would be used to determine where I live, how much I pay for utilities, the car I drive, my insurance payments, and where I work I would have surely been more responsible with how I used my credit cards.

Going forward, you must be mindful that we live in a society that encourages the use of credit for every purchasing decision we make. It will be up to you to learn how to use credit properly and learn what it means to your life. Don't be like me and throw away thoudands of dollars for seven years or more of your life because of bad decisions. Make sure you know how to use a credit card before you get one. Start by asking yourself ... Do I know my Credit ABCs?