5 Questions with Yanely Espinal, YouTube finance coach

Date: April 16, 2021

Yanely Espinal is a founder of the popular blog and YouTube channel MissBeHelpful.com which engages people on financial topics such as budgeting, managing credit, saving and investing for retirement. After paying $20,000 in credit card debt, she discovered a passion for financial literacy and created educational videos to inspire young people to learn about personal finance in a fun way. She currently serves as the director of educational outreach at next gen personal finance and is a member of CNBC's financial wellness advisory council.

The following five questions are transcribed from the most recent The VantageScore Podcast. To hear more from her interview about improving financial health, please tune-in here.

Tell us how you went into $20,000 credit card debt and how did you get out of debt?

I was working while studying at Brown University. But even working minimum wage, it isn’t a ton of money, and textbooks were pretty expensive. So I ended up getting my first credit card. It was a student credit card.

Back then, nobody had a serious conversation with me about what are some realistic expectations for what college life is going to be like - the social pressures. I was just not prepared for that. And so when I got my first credit card, I used it to buy a laptop and things that I need for school such as books and supplies. But with the rest of the money, I bought clothes, shoes, Ben and Jerry's, Starbucks. So for me, it was really the social pressure that led to a lot of debt.

I had so much credit card debt that I was $20,000 in debt across four different credit cards with really high interest rates – up to 24%. So I started making payments more aggressively to my credit cards because after college my goal was really to stop making the minimum payments because the minimum payment was keeping me in the cycle, while interest was growing so quickly. After making aggressive payments, I paid off all the credit card debt in about two years.

How did you stumble upon a career in financial education?

Once I got out of debt, I decided I wanted to educate people about money and personal finance. And so I started posting videos on YouTube about it. I was shocked because when I posted them, I initially thought I'd get a couple of hundred people to be part of this community where we all “nerd out” about money and help each other with videos, links and resources. But really quickly, I had a thousand subscribers, then 5,000 and right now about 10,000 subscribers.

It was bigger thing than I thought it would be, which is wonderful because it just goes to show you that there is a need and people are looking to learn about credit, money, saving, budgeting and investing, but they don't know where to go. It's not being taught in schools.

And then I decided that I didn’t want to just focus on creating videos, but I also wanted to do workshops and courses so that people can learn at their own pace and receive comprehensive and holistic information.

Before COVID I was conducting a lot of in-person workshops at universities, teacher workshops, and trainings. Different companies and non-profits would bring me in to talk to their workforce. And now I've been doing a lot of these workshops virtually.

What is an important lesson you learned on your journey to financial wellness?

    I think the big mistake we make is that we accept financial information without challenging it. For example, when I went to the bank to get a student credit card, they told me that the credit card interest rate was 24%. I didn't ask any questions. At the end of the day, financial contracts can be negotiated; whether it’s a student loan, a car loan or credit card terms. You can call your lender and discuss options such as decreasing the interest rate or consolidating.

    What would you tell your younger self about money?

      The most powerful thing you can do is start setting aside a little bit of money from every paycheck and investing that money in the stock market. The reason why I say investing is so important is because when you go to purchase “big ticket” items like a house or a car, the more cash you have upfront, the less you have to borrow from a bank or a lending institution. People don't have a giant pile of cash lying around. So I always say: let’s start building that pile of cash as early as you can. Investing early and wisely can help you do that.

      What would you tell your older self about money?

        Instead of paying attention to just your bank accounts, think about your net worth, which incorporates the assets that you have - any investments, cash in your bank account, anything that has monetary value [e.g., stocks] - and subtracts any debts that you owe (e.g., money you owe on your mortgage, loans or a credit card). Subtract all that debt from the value of all your assets, and that’s your actual net worth. Make sure that decisions that you're making help you to increase your net worth slowly over time. As you progress in your career and your life, you [want to achieve] a higher net worth. Especially as we get older, we want to start trying to get close to a point where we can imagine ourselves retiring comfortably.