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Prather discusses millennial debt with Kiwanis

VALLEY — Long-time local mortgage specialist Audra Prather was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley.

Prather currently works for Moultrie, Ga.-based Ameris Bank, which yet has a location in east Alabama, from home and frequently meets with clients at local realtor offices. Founded in 1971, Ameris Bank currently has locations in Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Florida and Tennessee.

Prather has been lending for ten years and started her career at Johnson, Caldwell & McCoy in Lanett, specializing in closings.

She has a college-age son and talked about the problems people of his age group are having in getting loans.

“It freaks me out that so many of them leave college with lots of debt,” she said. “My goal in life is to educate young people on what they are getting themselves into. If you are in debt some $60,000-$70,000 in student loans you are not going to be able to buy anything. It really hurts you at a time when you are thinking about settling down, buying a home and having a career.”

Another problem for some of those fresh out of college is that they don’t have a credit history.

“You have to have experience to get a job, and you have to have credit to get a loan,” Prather said. “Some young people do not have a credit score.”

Every young person, she said, needs to: manage debt, manage their student loans and establish credit.

“I have seen some amazing things,” Prather said. “I saw one person whose credit score had come down because they had a $7 collection from Bradshaw-Chambers County Library. They paid it, and their credit score went back up.”

Prather said that a good credit score nationally was in the low 800s.

“We hardly see that here,” she said. “With most people, it falls from 660 to 750. We will take something at 620. That’s the lowest we will go.”

She cautioned people to be careful when trusting their credit score information to services such as Credit Karma.

“They are seldom right,” she said. “They will tell you your credit score is 770 when it’s really around 620. You won’t find out what your credit score is until you apply for a loan. Millennials are being told they can go to certain services to find out what their credit score is and it may not be right.”

Prather said it’s important to remember that to have credit, one must use it.

“It’s good to use a credit card and to have it paid off,” she said.

She said that it wasn’t wise to get a loan from a finance company for the purpose of building credit. Their interest rates can be outrageous. It’s legal in Alabama, for example, for payday lenders to charge as much as 387 percent interest.

“It makes me nervous that lenders can do things that banks can’t,” Prather said. “They are putting people into something they will lose in three years. It’s not good to have a bunch of foreclosed properties.”

It’s all about money fast, and that’s the same road we traveled in the housing crisis of 2008.

“It may not be good for the economy,” Prather said. “Young people don’t know what they could be getting into.”

Prather added that we have become a car-dependent society and that some young people have never written a check.

“They do everything on cards,” she said. “It is super important of them to know some things that they don’t. They are not living in la la land where everything is taken care of for them. You can very easily get yourself into trouble.”

Prather said that mortgage rates have crept up since the first of the year but are still much better than what they were in the past. Generally, the rates fall between 4.875 and 5.25 percent. In the 1980s, for example, they were in the double-digit range.

“Get on that happy train,” said club member Karen Yarbrough. “If you are in single digits you are okay.”

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