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Penny Southward and I met through Operation HOPE for about a year and a half, and I am thrilled to say that I graduated from the program. Penny was incredibly knowledgeable and thoughtful in presenting different options available to me to help bring me to a place of financial freedom. Each meeting brought further insight into different parts of personal finance, from saving, tracking spending, when and how to start investing and building good credit. Because of my participation with Operation HOPE, I feel much more equipped and motivated to make smart and effective decisions that will help me financially take care of my family and me not just for the next few months but for many years to come. I am tremendously grateful for all the time that Penny invested with me and will not hesitate to recommend her and Operation HOPE to friends and colleagues of mine who find themselves in a similar situation to where I was coming out of school. Thank you so much!”

– R. C. Smith, 26 years old


 RC was no stranger to hard work, patience, and planning. At the time of his enrollment, RC was working on an advanced degree and making plans to get engaged and marry the love of his life in the next two to three years. Nor was he a stranger to HOPE. A family member, who had been working with Operation HOPE financial wellbeing coach, referred him to the program and spoke highly of its approach and results.

RC’s financial situation is not unlike many young Americans looking to get ahead in life with the help of higher education. He had incurred some student loan debt and anticipated relocating to another state for his first post-graduate employment. Since he was beginning a new chapter in his life, he prioritized setting goals and making a plan with his new financial coach. His goals were to 1) reduce student loan debt, 2) increase his credit score, 3) tithe with each paycheck, 4) save, and 5) learn about investing.

 He started the program in late December 2020 with a FICO score of 670.  His student loan debt was $74,847, and his credit card debt was $7927.00. He had practically maxed out his credit cards and worked with a negative cash flow of $806.00 a month. Sadly, he was using credit and student loans to supplement his earned income. After digging deep together, RC and Penny discovered that there was room for improvement in certain categories of spending. Shortly thereafter, he made an adjustment to his budget.

 Once RC understood how his credit card balances affected his credit score, how credit limits worked, and the terms and conditions of his credit cards, he had no qualms with focusing on needs vs wants as a first step toward developing a plan to pay off credit card debt.

As he had planned to, RC moved to another state and married in 2021. He took full advantage of his employer-provided benefits and retirement plan. In August 2022, RC joined Operation HOPE’s 700 Community with a FICO of 762, credit card debt of $2683.00 that was 100% reimbursable for business travel. He started the program with $6.93 across two saving accounts and exited the program with $8000.00 saved.

After learning the foundations of financial literacy, RC took the initiative to learn how to grow his money through investing. He pays his credit card balances in full each month and has upgraded to credit cards that offer rewards that match his financial and leisure goals. He has saved funds for unexpected expenses. RC’s next steps are to build an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses, begin investing, and possibly starting a ROTH IRA he can use toward a down payment on his and his wife’s first home.


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