“I’d like to see her move from being a recipient to a donor someday,” said Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta Board Member Merrie Edelston.
She is describing Allison*, the young woman she met almost two years ago during the interview process for a loan.
“When we interviewed her, I was looking at her credit report and the debts she reported to us that she had. It was a mess. It was a total mess. She had a lot of medical bills, but what she wasn’t able to conquer was this amount of student loan debt,” Edelston said.
Edelston has a background in banking with approximately four years of experience as a credit un-ion loan officer. She invited Allison to her home to meet weekly and craft a solution for her finances. Student loans and medical bills were among the biggest financial hindrances Allison faced. Allison qualified for and received a $1,500 interest free loan from JIFLA to help pay off her medical expenses. She, like many loan applicants, had a financial need, appeared able to repay a loan and didn’t qualify for traditional loans.
Together, the women took a four-step approach to getting Allison’s finances in order.
Step One – Edelston assigned Allison to list every one of her debts, record her expenses and even track small purchases like books or snacks. The biggest chunk was almost $200,000 in student loans.
Step Two – “I had her buy Quicken software to keep track of her expenses,” Edelston said.
The budgeting and money management software even has a mobile app where users can input their spending on the go. Quicken creates reports users can print and look over, like Allison and Edelston did.
Step Three – With encouragement from Edelston, Allison called a long list of medical offices to ne-gotiate her bills. In some cases, she was able to eliminate incorrect billing charges, which alleviated some of her debt.
“I encouraged her to be her own advocate,” Edelston said.
Step Four – Finally, Allison consolidated her six-figure student loan debt into one payment. But first, she needed encouragement from Edelston on how to conduct herself over the phone when she called to inquire about her balances. While sitting at Edelston’s home, the women practiced what Allison should say on the phone until she finally had confidence to make the calls on her own. After two years, Edelston and Allison are still meeting, but less frequently. “We went from every two weeks and now once a month,” Edelston said. “I pull her Quicken reports to see where she’s spending it. We run reports and she is accountable for her spending.”
Allison’s financial situation was once so dire that she did not have a permanent place to call home. Thanks to Edelston’s encouragement, she has a grip of her debt and is pursuing a career path to in-crease her income.
Edelston is a married mother of two adult daughters. She plays tennis and duplicate bridge and spends time volunteering with Jewish Family & Career Services and Congregation B’nai Torah in addi-tion to her volunteer work with JIFLA. While she stays fit and busy, one of Edelston’s biggest accom-plishments is working to turn around Allison’s financial future after meeting.
“I’ve gotten extraordinary satisfaction from this,” she said.
JIFLA is a non-profit charity providing financial assistance to Jewish individuals and families in the greater Atlanta Jewish community; helping neighbors and friends remain self-supporting and self-reliant members of the community with dignity and respect through interest free loans.
*Name changed for confidentiality.