It took hitting financial rock bottom for Sharita Humphrey to realize that she needed to get serious about money management.
“I had lost everything in the world that I owned,” Humphrey said. “I was evicted and eventually became homeless and not having an address for so long became my norm, but I knew that I wanted to change where I wanted to go.”’
Several years ago, she was staying in a rundown motel with her small two children while working an unstable job, the Texas native reached her breaking point and became determined to create a better life for her family.
Humphrey first started with the basics — reading books on debt reduction and credit to improve her financial literacy. In 2016, she then enlisted the help of Self Financial, Inc., a fintech platform that specializes in credit building. It was the jump-start the now-money mentor said she needed to rebuild her credit history in order to qualify for an apartment and begin reestablishing her financial future.
“I decided that I was going to be the one to break the cycle of financial lack in my family and be the trailblazer to create wealth for my family.
“The entire process that I went through was no walk in the park,” she told BankRate. “It took me several months to start to feel financially confident, but all of the hard work was worth it. My children and I moved into our new home, and I even secured a government job.”
The financial hardships that made Humphrey start from scratch turned her into a financial literacy advocate with the goal of helping others overcome money challenges. After serving as a government tax examiner and auditor, she pivoted her career toward teaching marginalized groups how to be better stewards of their money and establishing good credit, regardless of income level.
“Credit and finances go hand in hand and many of [people] in the Black community have lower credit scores than any other racial group,” Humphrey said. “It’s important for people that I serve, especially for Black and Latinos to know that credit is not something you think about later.”
Virtual financial empowerment talks and workshops have become a daily grind for Humphrey to build up the African-American middle class. The certified financial education instructor was recruited in June 2021 by the U.S. State Department to work in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Namibia to help small business owners increase their financial literacy andn navigate bookkeeping skills. This role is ongoing.
Her background as an auditor equipped her to assist small business owners to avoid some common tax pitfalls, too.
Financial literacy has been deemed the great equalizer to closing the racial wealth gap and building generational wealth in African American families. Yet, minorities have persistently lagged behind white Americans in being financially adept. The financial IQ for U.S. adults is low, but even more dismal for African Americans. On average, Blacks answered 38 percent of personal finance questions correctly, compared against 55 percent of whites who answered the same questions, according to TIAA Institute.
While there’s been a generational shift in a growing number of African-American millennials investing in the stock market for the first time in 2020, Humphrey says it’s important to distinguish investing from financial planning, and more importantly, knowing the basics of personal finance.
“Before you even get into investing you have to have a budget and know how to manage your finances. You have to be able to think about a long-term strategy and do so with industry experts like financial planners,” Humphrey said.
As inflation continues to rise, Americans are being more frugal and mindful about managing their money. Oftentimes seeking financial wellness advice has been a deterrent for African Americans because of the lack of diversity among women and people of color in the industry. Trust in financial services continues to affect Blacks’ engagement in working with a financial professional.
“One of the things that we need to do as financial professionals are to tell our stories because most of the time it’s hard for people of color to relate if they just see the end result,” Humphrey said. “We have to be advocates by using our platforms because it can really help people change their financial trajectory.”