Award-winning actor Hill Harper has been a long time advocate for financial literacy. Since releasing his New York Times bestselling book, The Wealth Cure, Harper has continued to create businesses to provide jobs and develop programming for economic empowerment.
His latest endeavor is a partnership with Experian to create more awareness about the importance of a good credit score and the financial tools you can use to become more credit-savvy. ESSENCE spoke with Harper to get his thoughts about Black financial literacy and ways to create a better financial future for the next generation:
ESSENCE: What did you notice in the Black community or from personal experience that inspired you to write The Wealth Cure and advocate for financial literacy?
HILL HARPER: When I started my Manifest Your Destiny Foundation it was all about empowerment. What I quickly began to realize is that for many of the issues I was trying to impact, like education and family cohesion, money was an issue. Achieving education goals and also dealing with communities where the education was lacking; there was a money tie to that. The number one thing couples argue about in family is money. So if we’re going to keep families together and actually improve education, I think we have to deal with that. Then you start to peel back the onion, and you realize that money is not taught in school. We teach math from first to twelfth grade, and we teach a lot of other things, but we don’t teach money. I would argue that your relationship to money over the course of your life is much more important than your ability to do long division. So I wanted to step in and try to help in that regard and empower people around finances and financial literacy.
ESSENCE: According to reports, many Black women control their household spending and finances, what financial tools do you suggest they use to become more credit-savvy?
HARPER: I want folks to know first and foremost, you are not your credit score. Most of us bury our heads, and we don’t want to deal with our credit score. It can be very scary…but I want to tell people they can take control of it. This is why I’m partnering with Experian on the Boost America challenge. For the first time one of the big three credit bureaus, Experian has innovated by allowing people to load in their positive payment history to help possibly improve their credit score. A lot of folks out there had been paying their cell phone bill, and their utility bill, but they haven’t been getting credit for it inserted in their credit file and their positive payment history. The Boost America challenge and Experian Boost, the program, helps people do that, and it’s the first of its kind. I want people to take control of their credit. Don’t act like it’s just happening to them, but actually, engage with it and learn different ways and techniques and start with this Experian Boost program, because it’s free, it’s opt-in, it works, and you’ll see your credit score cruise up.
ESSENCE: For mothers who want to know how they can secure a fruitful financial future for their kids, what’s one piece of advice that you would give?
HARPER: Cross-generational wealth transfer is one of the biggest challenges facing our country, this is what’s interesting is that in the past four years for the majority country we see wealth growth by up to 3 percent. Yet for African-Americans and Latinos, it’s dropped by 18 percent and 12 percent respectively. That’s a scary statistic. While wealth is building for a certain group of people, wealth is declining at the same time. That means we are going in the wrong direction. So the thing we have to focus on is savings and the time value of money, putting money away. We have to focus on budgeting, and we have to focus on your credit and how much it’s costing you to live. I say in my book The Wealth Cure you can’t be free if the cost to be you is too high and if you’re paying out a lot of costs because of higher interest rates and credit cards, car insurance, higher auto loans and different types of these quote-unquote hidden fees. It’s very difficult to save more. We can transfer all those hidden costs of just future savings and cross-generational wealth transfer.
I have a son who is three years old, so I set up a 529 account for him for his future education. It grows tax-free over the course [of time] as he is building towards college. I would suggest all families set up an automatic investment in a 529 plan. I think that it’s very important for your kids and their future education and lowering the cost of their future education. That’s just one example, but dealing with your credit is one of the most proactive things you can do.