Long Story $hort: Season 2, Episode 9

Sharing the Care and Compassion of an MMI Counselor

Marla Puckett has seen it all. Having recently celebrated 20 years as a credit counselor, Marla is an expert on helping consumers reach their financial goals. She is dedicated to providing personalized guidance to each client she encounters.

Marla and Adam discuss her experience in the last 20 years, stigma around debt, and “Spending Plans”. Stay tuned to the end because little does she know, Adam and MMI have a surprise for her.

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Long Story $hort Marla Puckett.

Show Notes

  • Guest: Marla Puckett
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: June 27, 2023


1:38 | Marla talks about working in banking before coming to MMI, and why that transition suited her so well.

2:54 | Adam and Marla discuss the art of listening and understanding the root cause of someone's financial troubles.

4:21 | Marla explains how she approaches each counseling session.

10:32 | Adam and Marla talk about how a simple change, like calling your budget a "spending plan", can make the process feel more positive and less restrictive.

10:40 | Adam lets Marla know that she's been nominated for the NFCC Counselor of the Year award.

Episode Transcript

Adam Walker: Joining us on the show today, we have Marla Puckett. Marla is a certified credit counselor who recently celebrated 20 years with MMI. She has helped countless people reach their financial goals. She has praised by her clients past and present for her compassionate approach to any and every situation.

Marla, welcome to the show. Well, I am real excited to talk to you because you have just this amazing breadth of knowledge and experience, and you've got, I mean, I have seen a few quotes from some of your clients and they do really love you. So, so let's get started with you.

Tell us a little bit more about you. Where do you live? What do you do? What do your days look like?

Marla Puckett: So I live in Chesterfield, Virginia, right outside of Richmond. Been here about 12 years. I've been credit counseling, like you said, about 20 years now, a little over 20. I started off with a really small agency that was in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina. And then through mergers and mergers. I ended up about five years ago with MMI, and this is home. MMI is, hands down, the best agency to work for.

Adam Walker: I love that. So, all right, so you're celebrating 20 years in this. I mean, it's pretty rare that somebody stays in a profession for 20 years. So there's gotta be like some real good reasons behind that. Like, walk me like, like why this profession for 20 years?

Marla Puckett: So before this, in my past life, I worked in banking and finance. I was a teller supervisor. I worked for a finance company, did lending, collections management, and. It never really felt right. Especially cuz I worked for a higher risk lender and we were charging exorbitant interest rates and had high goals to try to make those loans.

And it got to the point where I wasn't sleeping well at night. Making these loans for folks and then two months later having to call to collect on the payment that wasn't being made. So I saw and ad in the paper for a credit counselor and I said, you know what? This is really gonna be a good fit. I have my degree in psychology. So having that background made my parents very happy when I went into credit counseling because they didn't waste their money on my degree.

But long story short, as we say, I am now doing this. I love it. I love helping people get outta debt. Educating them on budgeting and finances and just. Getting to do what I love.

Adam Walker: So, all right. So, so I would imagine that a large, a huge part of your job is listening. Is that accurate? And like what role does listening play in sort of how you're able to help people?

Marla Puckett: Yeah, absolutely. Just like any kind of counseling, you have to be a good listener. To hear what's going on. You know, we wanna learn what their habits are, good and bad. We wanna learn, you know, what their mistakes are so that we can help them to correct them and get them moving in the right direction.

Adam Walker: Okay. That's great. I love that. And do you have any, I'm just curious, like after, after 20 years of really patiently listening to people, I wonder if you have, do you have any advice about listening, how we can be better listeners? I mean, that's just a random question. I'm just curious if you have any advice on that.

Marla Puckett: Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I tend to be a talker and that's okay, but you have to listen and more importantly, hearing what they're saying beneath the surface, you know?

People can talk. And, you know, you just hear blah, blah, blah. But listening to what they're saying and trying to find that root cause what's really going on deep down is where you really wanna focus your attention.

Adam Walker: And so, so let's talk about kind of the work that you've done. Like what advice would you have for individuals or families with growing debt that might be nervous about reaching out to MMI?

Marla Puckett: So I tell my clients all the time, this is gonna be the hardest phone call that you've ever made, and it's gonna be the easiest thing that you've done once you've hung up. Because you know my job is to help.

You sleep at night, you know, to help you get through this stress that is making it so difficult. And, you know, I always have a, you know, a couple of little things I like to say to my clients. And I usually get these from my clients. You know, I've had clients tell me in the past, this is debt not death. I've had clients tell me, you can't get orange juice from a grape. I love these sayings because they're literally from the mouth of babes.

You know, we're hearing this from the clients and this is how they're able to kind of deal with it and from talking with me, and they're able to verbalize those things. And I back them up. On, you know, that, that train of thought.

Adam Walker: Oh, I love that. I love that. So, so I'm curious then, you know, across thousands of conversations, are there some common things that you hear that maybe you could share with us that people need to kind of watch out for in their own, you know, journeys through financial, you know, personal living.

Marla Puckett: Yeah, sure. So I hear a lot. I didn't get into debt by shopping. I didn't go buy this. I didn't go do that. It was for needs, you know, I had to put food on the table, I had to do this, I had to, you know, get gas in the car and it ended up just getting out of control.

So at that point, we want to kind of shift the focus to budgeting and seeing, you know, their needs versus their wants. And, you know, it was a little different.

When I worked in a branch and I was able to see their actual billing statements because they would bring in their statements and I could see where, you know, they were spending their money and if I saw, you know, restaurant after restaurant, you know, things like that, then we would have the talk about shifting that focus from going out to cooking at home or having potlucks with your friends or whatever options were out there to try to help them curb that. You know, that need, that desire, that spending, 

Adam Walker: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. No, I totally understand. Okay. Okay. I love, I mean, I love that, and I mean, any other like, typical things that you see or a typical like advice that you give throughout this process.

Marla Puckett: So, I mean, Typically, I'm gonna tell my clients the hardest part of doing anything is starting it. You know, whether it's starting a budget and a budget can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

A lot of times, I don't even like to use the word budget because it causes a lot of anxiety, I'll use the word spending plan. Because that sounds a little softer, you know, not quite as stress invoking. And so we wanna, you know, focus on. Where their money's going, how we can get it shifted around to going to the right places and how they can do that on their own with my support.

Adam Walker: I love that. I love spending plan. Okay, I'm gonna, next time I need to talk to my kids, I'm gonna talk about their spending plan for the summer. That's gonna be great. It's gonna be so helpful.

Okay. So, so then let's talk a little bit about like, you know, consumer debt, right? So we talk a lot on the show about. How consumer debt is so common and yet we don't have conversations around it. There's this stigma around debt and getting out of debt. I mean, can you talk a little bit about like how you think MMI is fighting against that? How you're helping clients fight against that? Like how do you advise people about that?

Marla Puckett: Sure. I tell people they're in a big boat with a lot of people. They are not alone in this situation. There are thousands and thousands of people that are in debt and they're struggling. I let them know, I talk to an average of five to seven people a day that are dealing with the same situation and you know, if you count that times the number of counselors in my agency. It's huge.

So we're helping so many people that are all dealing with the same situation, although they may have different, you know, circumstances that brought them into that situation.

Adam Walker: Yeah. So, all right. So across a whole career of helping people I'm just curious, are there any stories that stand out that you'd be able to share with us? Of course, without betraying any kind of confidence Sure. But any, anything that would that, that you're able to share?

Marla Puckett: Sure. So I remember, this was a number of years ago, I had a couple that came into my office and you could tell by their body language that there was not good communication. You know, they were sort of sitting. Back to back, you know, shoulder to shoulder, not really turned in to, you know, face each other. And when one of the spouses went out to go get a drink of water or whatever, the other spouse reached into their purse and grabbed out a handful of bills and says, they don't know about this. Can you please go through this while they're out? So, I did. I took care of it. But I emphasized how important it is to communicate because money issues number one issue when it comes to, you know, divorce nowadays.

You know, a lot of folks just are not communicative about it. And again, it goes back to that stigma. You know, they don't want their spouse or their family or anybody to know that they're struggling with this. However, you have to rely on these people to support you emotionally. To help you with, because there is that emotional piece to it, and you have to work together. You know, as a team to get the situation taken care of because you can't do it on your own if you're in a marriage.

Adam Walker: Yeah. Well, I mean, or if you have kids that you know, spend any kind of money, like they need to be a part of that conversation as well. Absolutely. So that they're not, you know, constantly running through the drive through or driving all over the place and having huge gas bills or whatever else.

Marla Puckett: Absolutely. Yeah. We call that tough love.

Adam Walker:  Yeah, that's right. Tough love is is a good thing. It's certainly a good thing. Okay. Okay. Well, so, so Marla I do have a little surprise for you today. So, I think, I believe it might have been your manager. Let me know that MMI is gonna be nominating you for the NFCC Counselor of the Year award this summer.

So, and they were kind enough to send me. Just a couple of quotes. So I'm gonna read a few of these to you. Hope you don't mind a little embarrassment for you. So, just a couple quotes from your customers.

So one was it was great talking to Marla and her professional way of handling the issues I came forward with and her candid and helpful tips she rendered to mes. I could see that you're very candid. I love that. I love candid people.

Another person said, Marla Puckett is the most wise and compassionate credit counselor you could ever wish for. She listened silently to my mother, as my mother spoke about her credit issues, and then Marla laid out a plan to solve those issues. I can't say enough about Marla. That's pretty great.

And then one, one more. One more. In the beginning it was very stressful, but got better. After speaking to Marla for a while, she was able to get my payment down to a point I was comfortable with on a monthly basis. A creditor had made the ordeal very stressful for me. Things are better now. So you are helping so many people and making such an impact. It's so, oh, that cheers me up. Isn't that exciting? Yes. Isn't, that's awesome. I don't know if there's a public vote, but if there's any kind of public vote, I'm gonna vote for you for sure.

So, well, thank you. I don't know how that works, but well, Marla I love the work that you're doing. It's so important, so profound and impactful and helpful to so many people. I mean, you just said yourself, you talk to five to seven people a day, and I can't imagine how much better their days are after they have a conversation with you. Because they, I think they probably start that conversation. Very nervous and a little scared, and they end it probably very encouraged and feeling under control, you know?

Marla Puckett:  Absolutely. Yeah. They come into me and they honestly don't know why they're calling me sometimes, you know, they're referred by a creditor, you know, they transfer me to you. I don't know what I need to do, and so, you know, I try to set them at ease from the get-go. Yeah. So that the conversation flows very smoothly.

Adam Walker: Well, you're obviously amazing at what you do. I'm so happy to get to talk to you just a little bit. Do you have any final words of advice for our listeners before we we end our chat today?

Marla Puckett: So anytime you guys are feeling that stress, that pinch, just call us. It doesn't hurt. It helps. And your life will be easier once you've just spoken with myself or one of my coworkers.

Adam Walker: That's right. That's right. Absolutely.

To learn more about how MMI helps people from all walks of life get unstuck and out of the vicious cycle of debt through personalized solutions that inspire hope, visit moneymanagement.org. This episode was produced by Edgewise Media. Script writing and production by Clara Jennings. Editing by Brandon Ellis and show hosting by me, Adam Walker.

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