Credit: one word that can devastate someone’s life if the credit is deemed “bad.” On the other hand, “good” credit will find new cars, homes, and all manner of items acquirable, which could then land one in “bad” credit again if payments exceed the ability to pay. Tricky thing, that little word credit. But COSTEP, Council for South Texas Economic Progress, has a mission – teaching Valley residents everything they need to know about credit and financial literacy to become financially stable.
“Since 2010 when the majority of student loans became a government program, our main goal at that time had been to service student loans. But we found ourselves taking a step back,” Patricia Beard, president, COSTEP, began. “We asked ourselves the question, ‘How can COSTEP continue to help the Valley?’ One answer, which became clear, was credit repair. We found numerous people were being taken advantage of when it came to credit repair, being put on long term, extended contracts costing quite a bit of money.”
Deciding to combat the abuse they saw, COSTEP created CFFCR, Council for Fair Credit Restoration, a little over two years ago. Taking a different approach, it brings clients in through COSTEP, the non-profit entity, and teaches them financial literacy.
“We talk to them and counsel them, asking them to think about how they got into their credit position,” Beard continued. “We have found most people don’t understand how credit works whatsoever. Typically, they find their credit score is in the tank when they’re trying to buy a car or house and aren’t able to purchase those things.”
Choosing the millennials as the primary target market, since students these days are so often not taught financial literacy, COSTEP has devised a plan.
“Since our younger adults are exiting school not understanding how to use or manage credit, it’s easy for them to lose track of their finances,” she said. “Credit is easy to obtain, especially for college students, and we’re seeing they overuse and have over-extended themselves, which gives them poor credit scores. It’s a domino effect.”
Developing the website to highlight this issue, now people can take a free financial literacy course with 24 modules at their leisure. The course covers such basics as How to Write a Check and What is the FICO Score? to How to Buy a Car.
COSTEP was organized in 1972 when then Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen and local business leaders envisioned it as an economic development corporation. Bentsen then helped author the Higher Education Act of 1965, and secondary markets for student loans were born, assisting students to reach their goals of a higher education.
“For over 45 years, COSTEP has helped in excess of over 500,000 students go to college,” Beard said.
Another division of the company helps students from defaulting on their student loans.
“We do an abundance of student loan counseling as it relates to students and families getting into trouble while attempting to repay student loans. There are many options at the federal level for students and families, and we help them when they get into those uncomfortable situations.”
In essence, COSTEP has been evolving in the changing world of financing higher education. From a full time loan servicer, it has diversified, leading the entire credit field to a new standard.
“Besides teaching financial literacy, having our credit repair company, and helping students and families avoid and with loan defaults, we’ve developed a $400 million portfolio we manage. COSTEP created, services and manages a secondary market called the South Texas Higher Education Authority,” Beard said.
Claiming no accolades for COSTEP’s concepts, she pointed to her board. “They love the Valley, and their hearts are always in the Valley, especially about education,” she said. “I’m very blessed to have this amazing board.”
Working for COSTEP for 25 years, Beard has led the company as President since 2003. With her background with Arthur Anderson LLP and as an oil company auditor, she came on board as the Vice President of Financial Operations.
Overcoming family health issues led her to start a wellness program within the company a few years ago.
“Altogether, our staff of 20 has lost 67 percent of our body fat
corporate wide,” she said. “We do it in teams through different challenges.
“If there is one quote that exemplifies COSTEP I think it is this,” Beard said. “We’re not only community oriented, we also believe that our employees are our number one asset and we
treat them with integrity and dignity. I think that has bode well for the corporation and is why it’s been in existence for 45 years.”
Found on the 5th floor of the Chase Tower building, COSTEP is a Valley entity, determined to bring financial literacy and stability to its citizens.