Long Story $hort Episode 10

Making a Comeback with MMI Military Reconnect

Demetrius Thrasher deployed with the Navy in Spain. While stationed in Europe, he became captivated by the luxury brands available at every corner. Thrasher opened several lines of credit, began accumulating debt, and ultimately faced the potential of losing his security clearance.

After connecting with MMI, he paid off $90,000 in debt through years of hard work and dedication. Demetrius shares his debt payoff story in the company of Tara Alderete, the Director of Enterprise Learning at MMI, who works with MMI’s Military Reconnect program.

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Show Notes

  • Guest: Demetrius Thrasher and Tara Alderete
  • Host: Adam Walker
  • Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Demetrius Thrasher: I had to learn it this way. This is my lesson. I had to go through it this way, unfortunately, but I feel like my comeback is going to be stellar. It's going to be amazing.

[00:00:33] Adam Walker: Debt. We've all heard of it. Most of us have it. Debt is an almost unavoidable reality of life, but what happens when it starts consuming life?

The experts at Money Management International believe that financial challenges aren't meant to be faced alone.

On this podcast, we hear stories of people's whose lives have been changed by MMI's role as their toughest coach and loudest cheerleader. Their stories are unique, personal, and inspiring. So stay tuned because we're sharing each guest's Long Story Short.

Today on the show, I'm talking with Demetrius Thrasher and Tara Alderete.

Demetrius lives in Atlanta, Georgia and is a military veteran. While working with the debt relief counselors at MMI, he paid off $90,000 in debt. Demetrius is here today to share his debt story... and is joined by Tara, who is the Director of Enterprise Learning at MMI. Together we'll talk about MMI's Military Reconnect Outreach program and overcoming the debt stigma.

Demetrius and Tara, welcome to the show!

[00:01:52] Demetrius Thrasher: Hi, Adam! Hi Tara!

[00:01:54] Tara Alderete: Hey guys! Thank you so much.

[00:01:57] Adam Walker: I'm so excited to talk to both of you. This is gonna be an important conversation, and Demetrius the numbers that we talked about in the intro are just staggering. So I'm looking forward to hearing more about that. So let's start with

[00:02:07] Demetrius Thrasher: Right?

[00:02:07] Adam Walker: you Demetrius. Can you tell us kind of the one minute flyer of, who you are, where you're from and what do your days look like right now?

[00:02:15] Demetrius Thrasher: Okay. So for me, 14 year Navy veteran. From initially, from Atlanta, Georgia. Grew up here my whole life. Leaving here was the... joining the Navy was the best decision I ever made. No matter how much crap we talk about the military when we're in, but I'm just a charismatic, I like to say fun individual, you know, like a little drinks every now and then. Thanks Navy for, you know, exacerbating that a little bit more.

I just love life and just, you know, my days, what they look like now, literally are this post-military life. Transitioning out, it's completely new ground, and I'm like, I never thought coming outta the military would be such a huge transition. But then when I think about it in retrospect, going in, was a transition. So it's the reverse. It's a whole lot of financial security. That's like, Ugh. So thank God I don't have any family, like kids or anything, but it has been interesting to say the least.

[00:03:17] Adam Walker: Wow.

[00:03:18] Demetrius Thrasher: Yeah.

[00:03:18] Adam Walker: I can only imagine the complexity of that. So, let's dive in for a minute into your debt story, Demetrius. What was happening in your life when you became a client of MMI and was there any particular breaking point that you hit where you knew you needed additional help?

[00:03:36] Demetrius Thrasher: Okay. So for me, I was in my early twenties. I didn't have any financial literacy. Literally after graduating high school I literally joined the military, was like, I need to leave here. There's nothing here, let me go. You literally throw someone who's from an impoverished area, into an organization where, Hey, we're gonna pay you money to go travel around the world.

And here's your money. Here's X amount of dollars in. So I'm just looking like, okay. Eating out at McDonald's and all that. When I used to eat McDonald. You know, just throwing money away, basically. So again, no financial literacy, no one to show me how to properly budget, how to, you know, save.

Before I knew it, I was 25 years old and I was transferring to Japan for the first time, Yokosuka. And my supervisor, a new supervisor was like, Hey look, your security clearance is gonna get taken if you don't get this debt under control. So I wanna say at that time I had just tipped over the 80 K mark.

And I was like, okay, I gotta figure this out. I don't wanna lose my clearance. If you lose your clearance, you're done. Like game over for you. So I started looking for resources. I started going to the military counseling, asking them, Hey, what can I do? They were selling me the million dollar sailor, all this other stuff.

Have you implemented this? Have you tried this? I'm doing everything. Calling the banks, trying to get the APRs lowered on these credit cards. So I think I had about five or six credit cards. It was bad. So, one of the counselors was like, Hey, have you tried a debt management program? I'm like, I've never heard of that.

So she was like, Hey, go Google. We legally can't tell you which one to do. So she said, whenever you do go home, Google debt management programs, and just choose from there. I literally did that, cuz at this point I'm desperate. I'm like I can't keep up with these payments.

[00:05:31] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:05:31] Demetrius Thrasher: Even on a military salary.

[00:05:33] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:05:33] Demetrius Thrasher: Literally I think like you guys were at one point called Clear Point. They were like the third one on there, and they were the ones that accepted me. Cause the first two were like, Nope. I forget what their name was, you know, very irrelevant now, cause they didn't help me. But Clear Point, which is now MMI said, sure, we'll take you on.

I'm like, okay. And that started me getting my life in order and getting this debt cleared out. And it has been some rough times while I was on this. 'Cause those payments were no joke, but thank God I was able to keep up with them. And if I did miss, as long as I gave you guys a call and a heads up, you guys still worked with me and I was able to clear out that amount of debt at the end. And I was so thankful for it.

[00:06:17] Adam Walker: Wow. That's amazing. So let's talk a little bit more about that, the clearing it out.

[00:06:22] Demetrius Thrasher: Yes.

[00:06:22] Adam Walker: So, you worked with MMI, you have repaid $90,000 in debt. Let me just say that again. $90,000 in debt, which is just unbelievably amazing.

[00:06:34] Demetrius Thrasher: Right?

[00:06:35] Adam Walker: What were some of the challenges that you faced along the way and what are some of the lessons that you took away from that experience?

[00:06:40] Demetrius Thrasher: So the biggest challenges was, not properly utilizing a credit card, not seeking out the information on how to properly use a credit card, knowing what an APR is, knowing, you know, ROI and all this other stuff. I just was, just living. I literally was just like, oh, I'm in the military now. I'm just gonna go do whatever, no type of financial literacy, again, just literally just yoloing, literally.

[00:07:11] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:07:11] Demetrius Thrasher: And there were days, there were nights and days that, you know, a couple missed meals, account in the negative and in the red looking at my account like, when's the next payday again? That paycheck to paycheck was probably one of the most, I don't know what words to describe, but I would just have to say, debilitating feelings I've ever had.

[00:07:37] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:07:38] Demetrius Thrasher: And next to being at the store and hearing decline, and the cashier saying your card's declined. I'm like, oh, okay. And people behind you. So the embarrassment, the shame. Those were the biggest challenges for me. And of course, you know, missing some meals and stuff and, you know, just...

[00:07:54] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:07:54] Demetrius Thrasher: making a lot of sacrifices. My biggest lesson, only have one credit card or two max. Never again, will I have more than two. Currently right now I only have two. Once I started the process, oh I'm like, I'm never doing more than two. I'm just not gonna do it. I like moving forward. Also not to be ashamed.

I know in retrospect now looking back over everything that happened, it's okay. We all had, at some point in our lives, have some type of struggle. Everyone's different to you know, various degrees, but I was like, you know, I had to learn it this way. This was my lesson. I had to go through it this way, unfortunately, but I feel like my comeback is going to be, stellar. It's gonna be amazing.

[00:08:43] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:08:44] Demetrius Thrasher: So for me,

[00:08:44] Adam Walker: That's great.

[00:08:45] Demetrius Thrasher: those were my biggest lessons.

[00:08:47] Adam Walker: Oh, that's great. That's great lesson. All right. So Tara, and we'll come back to you Demetrius. Tara, switching gears, you work as the Director of Enterprise Learning at MMI. Tell us a little bit more about what that means, exactly.

[00:09:02] Tara Alderete: Yeah. So what I do at MMI as the director of enterprise learning, I'm largely responsible for external education and our military reconnect program. And so since this program's inception in late 2013, I have a team of educators and we go out and we just spread the word about military reconnect. So whether that's, you know, workshops that we do in person or online, working with VSO partners and military partners, and just sort of saying, Hey, these are the resources that are available.

Talking a little bit about some of the things that Demetrius mentioned, you know, like what are the basics of building a budget? What is my credit score made up of, you know, how should I be using credit responsibly, things like that to spark the conversation, plant the seed, and really start to talk about financial wellness. So essentially that's what I do, online and in person.

[00:10:00] Adam Walker: And can you, Tara, I just wanna make sure I understand what exactly is military reconnect. And I'm also curious if there's anybody in the military listening to this, or know somebody in the military, listening to this. Like where do they need to go to find out more information?

[00:10:15] Tara Alderete: Yeah, so it's a great question. So, you know, through mergers and acquisitions, we've been doing this well over 50 years, credit counseling and education, and the military reconnect program was really born of the idea that, you know, financial wellness is financial wellness, but our military veterans, you know, members, families, there are unique needs and challenges, and it's a different sort of situation. And so the idea really, and Demetrius, that's why I loved so much listening to you talking about the challenge of reconnecting after military life. So, you know, when we started this program, it was somebody that worked here said, you know, when I got out of the army, I was like, what? And so we really need to do some financial wellness and education for folks that are transitioning back to civilian life.

And that's how this program started. And then it just sort of grew from there. So that's really, that's really the idea behind it. And the other thing that we've learned over the years with this program is that, oftentimes, when we are trying to reach out to military members, families, things like that, there's a bit of a barrier.

You know, there's a trust factor. And so really building those relationships with these VSO partners to be able to say, Hey, you know, we are a trusted resource. Let's get rid of the stigma and shame, you know, that could be associated with this, and just get down to business, understanding that this happens to everybody at some point or another.

So if you'd like to learn more about reconnect, there are a bunch of different services that we offer. You can learn more about the program on our main website, you know, moneymanagement.org. Just search reconnect, but we also have an online learning community that will give you a wealth of information, and resources and links and all kinds of great stuff. And you can register for free access there, at recon.mmiuniversity.org.

[00:12:12] Adam Walker: That's fantastic, Tara, thank you for that, summary in that direction. So, Demetrius back to you. I want to hear a little bit more about your story. I understand that you were stationed in Hawaii for a time where the cost of living is very high.

Can you speak to some of the financial challenges around that?

[00:12:29] Demetrius Thrasher: Whew, first off Hawaii is so beautiful and very expensive as you stated. My goodness. A thing of cherries, I'll never forget. When I went into a Safeway store, which I think is equivalent to our Walgreens or something. But it's a grocery store in Hawaii, locally.

So I went to get a thing of cherries. I just had a thing for cherries for the last three years, you know, without a Safeway card, that's $17 for a bag. One bag, like this big of cherries was $17. Now, thank God for the Safeway card, it knocked it down to 14, but still. I'm like,

[00:13:06] Adam Walker: Wow.

[00:13:07] Demetrius Thrasher: Hawaii, this is, this is a bit much. So to live over in Hawaii while trying to wrap up this debt management, it was another couple, you know, negative accounts.

[00:13:17] Adam Walker: Yeah.

[00:13:18] Demetrius Thrasher: Accounts in the red, and then when I got promoted, that kind of offsetted everything for me. So, me getting promoted on my last year and a half in the military, literally pushed me to where I'm like, okay, I'm not gonna be struggling entirely paycheck to paycheck. I will have money left over now. Okay.

What can I do to go ahead and knock out some of this, the remaining debt? So I was doing the reverse snowball effects that MMI was doing. So anything that was already small, I was coming back in the rear and knocking that out. And then the money that was going today got rolled over into the next one, and then I just kept going the opposite way for the day we're doing, to help as much as I can with what little additional funds I was getting.

[00:13:58] Adam Walker: I'm glad you shared that 'cause I feel like a lot of times we think of our military being stationed in Hawaii, we think, oh, that isn't, that just glamorous. And I think in fact, it's not quite as glamorous as we tend to think, and there's a lot more struggle to it. And I'm really glad that you...

[00:14:11] Demetrius Thrasher: Very much so. Unless you're an officer, you can be living on a penthouse suite, but...

[00:14:18] Adam Walker: All right.

[00:14:18] Demetrius Thrasher: I was enlisted.

[00:14:19] Adam Walker: So let's talk for a minute about debt stigma, and you mentioned earlier, Demetrius, but let's talk about dead stigma and how it impacts the person's willingness to seek help. Tara, I wanna start with you, and just kind of tell us your thoughts on that and then Demetrius, I'd like to hear what you have to say as well.

[00:14:37] Tara Alderete: Yeah. I mean, you know, there definitely is a stigma, but I so wish that there weren't, because if there's anything I can say, you know, I've been with this organization for 11 years. And prior to that, in the financial services industry for well over 20, and, you know, I've talked to people all over the place, it doesn't matter. This is what I've learned. It doesn't matter who you are, how much you make, how much you don't make. Everybody, you know, with a very, very small exception, goes through something in life that forces them to say, oh my goodness, I need to either change my ways or sit down and put paper to pen, to paper and build a budget.

But I don't know where to start.

[00:15:22] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:15:23] Tara Alderete: Because financial wellness is one of those things that we should be talking about from the time we're real small, but we don't. And so, you know, it is really truly one of the things that we all have in common, is this sort of lack of knowledge around what to do with our finances, particularly when we get in trouble. And then this idea that, oh, goodness, I'm the only one going through this, but really that is 100% not the case. So,

[00:15:51] Adam Walker: That's right. That's right.

[00:15:52] Tara Alderete: What I think you'll find in, and Demetrius spoke to this, but what I think you'll find with an organization, you know, MMI in particular is that you really are gonna get non-judgmental service and compassion to remove that stigma and shame, you know, you're gonna talk to somebody that says, you know, I've been where you are, let's talk about this. Right. So..

[00:16:13] Adam Walker: Yeah, that's great.

[00:16:15] Tara Alderete: Yeah, and I think conversations like this go a long way in removing those barriers.

[00:16:21] Adam Walker: Yeah. Demetrius, what are your thoughts?

[00:16:23] Demetrius Thrasher: So my thoughts on the question is, because I don't think a lot of people actually know what a debt management program is, and even though it was seem self explanatory. I never knew what it was. I never knew it existed until that financial counselor told me. So I was also thinking, I was like, no one ever really prepared me.

Even in high school, I do remember wanting to take this one class called money management. But because I was on college prep instead of tech prep, they was like, you can't take this cuz it's not part your graduation plan. I was like, but this seems like it would make more sense for me to take this. And so I was like, honors trigonometry did absolutely nothing for me. Precalculus did nothing for me in the real..

[00:17:11] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:17:11] Demetrius Thrasher: real world.

[00:17:12] Adam Walker: Right. Yeah.

[00:17:12] Demetrius Thrasher: So I'm looking like, I wonder what, how different my life could have been even just for a little bit had I would've been able to get that money management class. Cause I still have that in the back of my head, like what would've happened if they would say, yeah, you can take this.

Why not? Who cares? But overall, the stigma is definitely there. It's the shame. It's not knowing. It's feeling embarrassed. It was all of it for me. I was just like, and then you also have people who always give unsolicited advice who don't know, instead of trying to help you.

I remember these individuals saying, you, when they found out I was on the debt management, and they were like, why would you do that? They were like, they take too much money from you. And when you can just do it yourself, I'm just like, I'm sorry, you haven't offered any type of solution. This right now has been the best thing for me.

And I'm actually able to survive each month now. What I was doing prior to that, you knew about, and you were just throwing your hands up. So now that you see that I'm on something, how do you know, have you done one? Do you know anyone?

[00:18:13] Adam Walker: Right.

[00:18:13] Demetrius Thrasher: Or are you just reading what you just saw in a random article?

Like, I hate that type of stuff. So I have to like dispel a lot of rumors to people. I'm like, I don't know what debt management program you were a part of, but I can tell you MMI has been taking very good care of me. And that's why, I did it a second time, because I'm like, Hey, I cleared out a good bit before I left Japan.

I need, I wanna wrap this last little bit up before I get out of the military. And they're the only ones that I can really trust right now because they were the only one that took me on and said, Hey, we got you. So, between all of that. It's just a lot of shame and stuff, and people aren't truly educated on what it is and how it can really benefit them. And I'm a big advocate.

[00:18:56] Adam Walker: Yeah. That's great. That's great. Well, so I love how you sort of framed that and how MMI has been able to support you through that journey. It's really, it's just truly inspiring. So Demetrius, last question for you. Kind of probably my favorite question for this interview. What does freedom from debt look like for you.

[00:19:15] Demetrius Thrasher: Freedom from debt looks like for me, being able to not have to run back to your account and check to see if you have enough to pay for anything. Just the freedom that comes with having money. Like, you know, people always say, oh, money's evil. The money's a root of all evil. Listen, money maybe can't buy happiness, but look, it definitely helps.

I just want the freedom that comes with habit. I don't want to have to be like, oh, let me check my phone. Oh, okay. Can I afford this? I don't want that. I just want to be able to live, you know, haphazardly, you know, and just be like, you know, I wanna go to Turks & Cacos this weekend. I wanna fly to Hawaii to see my buddies and friends, you know, for two weeks and not be concerned with it. I wanna buy this Italian furniture set for my sitting room and not worry about ever looking at my account. That's all I really want. That's what financial freedom looks like to me.

[00:20:12] Adam Walker: That's a good that's a good picture. You paint a good picture there. So that's fantastic. Tara, do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share with us.

[00:20:21] Tara Alderete: Just, my thanks again, Demetrius. Gosh, you're wonderful.

[00:20:26] Demetrius Thrasher: Thank you, Tara.

[00:20:27] Tara Alderete: And thanks for helping us spread the word. Help, helping us spread the word, because I feel like, yeah, let's talk about it. This is how change happens, right? These conversations that we have, and then they happen in our homes, in our schools and our communities. And pretty soon we've got big global change. And so, keep the conversation going. That's it, and reach out.

[00:20:49] Adam Walker: That's it?

[00:20:50] Demetrius Thrasher: Absolutely.

[00:20:50] Adam Walker: That's what we're doing. That's what we're doing here. Yeah. Well both of you, Tara, Demetrius, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. Demetrius, your story is truly inspiring. Thank you for all that you're doing, and thanks for joining me today.

[00:21:02] Demetrius Thrasher: Thank you for having me.

[00:21:04] Tara Alderete: Thanks.

[00:21:09] Adam Walker: This guest is a real MMI client whose success is the result of hard work and dedication. While MMI cannot guarantee results, taking early action can increase the available options and improve long-term outcomes. Thanks for listening to this episode of Long Story Short, brought to you by Money Management International.

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. Scriptwriting and production by Clara Jennings, editing by Brandon Ellis, and show hosting by me, Adam Walker.

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