Boni: A Story of Self-Sufficiency
Today, Boni speaks about his life in the U.S. with a humble confidence. In the five years that Boni has lived in the country, he has built financial security for himself. He has navigated unfamiliar surroundings and financial systems with strength and savviness.
Boni’s story is really a story of independence and self-sufficiency — a trademark of immigrant communities. As he shares his journey and insights with us, he says:
“It’s nice to have the space to think about these things. I don’t often have the time to reflect on my journey.”
Boni grew up just outside of Puebla, Mexico.
Boni’s family belonged to an indigenous Aztec background, so he grew up speaking his native language Nahuatl, instead of Spanish. He lived in a household with his mother, father, and four brothers.
His family was not wealthy, and they believed in the idea that “what you have is what is yours.”
“In Mexico, if you’re not wealthy, you see loans as digging yourself into a hole.”
Credit was a foreign concept for Boni. According to Boni, in Mexico, credit was only used by wealthy communities or business owners with large scale operations. Also, many financial institutions in Mexico didn’t feel very reliable or trustworthy, so Boni’s family generally stayed away from these institutions. When Boni was living in Mexico, he had heard about an unfortunate incident between local community members and staff at a local bank. A few community members had opened up savings accounts with the bank and deposited their earnings in the account. A few weeks later, their money was no longer there, and the branch manager proved to be unhelpful in resolving the issue.
At age 27, Boni moved to the U.S. to find employment and build his financial security.
“You often hear that there are more opportunities in this country, so you start to think about how you can get here and improve your life.”
In the U.S., Boni quickly realized that credit, and being part of the financial mainstream, is necessary for everyone. When he first arrived in California, Boni was focused on the basics. How was he going to start earning his income? Where would he live? How would he secure his meals?
“You come here, and you don’t have money, so you don’t worry about credit initially. On day one of arriving to the U.S, you worry about what you’re going to eat, live, and wear.”
After he found housing and employment, the need for a credit history began to creep into Boni’s life. With his skill set in remodeling, Boni easily found work in construction. He was an independent contractor, and as the scope of his projects increased in scale, he needed to rent more products from equipment leasing companies. But in order to rent the equipment, he had to show a positive credit history. He only found out about this requirement after he was turned away from an equipment leasing company.
Boni had the option of enlisting the help of friends to rent the equipment on his behalf, but he wanted ownership over the rental process. He didn’t want to burden others or accommodate to their schedules. It was time for him to invest in building his credit.
Boni wanted to build his credit so he could build his independence.
Having grown up with the mantra that “what you have is what is yours,” Boni instinctively knew that he did not want to build credit by accumulating debt.
In Boni’s neighborhood, purchasing household items on installment was a popular way to build credit. Representatives from a number of companies would go door-to-door in the community and sell household items. Community members could buy the items on installment, and each month’s payment would be reported to the credit bureaus.
He was skeptical of this method for a few reasons. First, the company’s installment payment plan came with high interest rates. Second, the company offered no real education around credit, so folks were still left in the dark about how credit worked. Third, given that Boni grew up with the mentality that ‘‘what you have is what is yours,’ his intuition led him away from building credit by taking on debt.
During a trip to the Consulate General of Mexico in San Jose for his identification documents, Boni attended a presentation on the Lending Circles program. He was interested in learning more about the program, so he stopped by MAF’s financial education office at the Consulate to speak with Diana Adame, MAF’s Financial Coach. At first, Boni was skeptical of the Lending Circles program, but as he asked more questions, Boni eventually warmed up to the idea. He became especially receptive to the program when he realized the similarities between Lending Circles and Tandas — the name for the social lending practice in Mexico. Suddenly, the idea of building credit didn’t feel so unfamiliar. With a zero-interest, credit-building, small dollar loan, Boni could build his credit and avoid debt.
MAF began offering financial empowerment services at the Mexican Consulate in San Jose and San Francisco in 2016. In San Jose, MAF’s Financial Coach, Diana Adame, leads the Ventanilla Financiera which literally translates to “financial empowerment window.” At the Ventanilla, Mexican nationals are able to get the support to start building their financial lives in the U.S. A typical day for Diana includes conducting mini presentations on a wide range of topics like credit, savings, and budgeting and offering personalized support to clients as they navigate their financial lives.
When Diana reflects on her work at the consulate, she thinks about her family.
“I wish my parents would have had the opportunity to go to a Ventanilla Financiera when they just arrived in the US. They would have saved a lot of money, time, and energy. There are so many resources that sometimes we are not aware in our day to day life. It is not until we go to places in our community where we learn about those resources and services. This work means I help someone set a goal and know that it is within their reach. It is no longer just a dream,” says Diana.
After participating in two Lending Circles, Boni was able to build his credit history and rent equipment for his construction work.
Boni recently updated Diana about his credit score: an incredible 699! He also recently got approved for his first credit card. Boni wants to continue building his credit score so he can eventually take out a loan and start his own construction company. Being the fiercely independent person he is, he loves the idea of eventually being his own boss.
We asked Boni what advice he’d like to give to those who are just starting to build their lives in this country, and this is what he wanted to share:
“Start building your credit as early as possible. Oftentimes, it’s not until we need credit that we realize the importance of building credit, and this can make it more difficult.”
He cites the importance of services like the Ventanilla Financiera at the Mexican Consulate. The consulate primarily caters to folks who have just arrived in the country, so this can be a great opportunity to introduce recently arrived immigrants to safe and reliable credit-building products.
“In the U.S., credit gives you the ability to build something that can help you build your future,” Boni says.
Originally, Boni moved to the United States with the intention of saving money and moving back home to Mexico to be with his family. However, as he continues to build his future in this country, Boni keeps pushing this date back. He enjoys working in this country, and he cherishes the independence he has built for himself in just a few short years.