11 Money Questions | Irene Day

11 money questions

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Credit Sesame interviewed Irene Day, aka Credit Queen Irene, as part of its 11 Money Questions series asking personal finance questions most people don’t like to ask.

1. How old are you and what is your yearly income?

I’m 36 and my business pays me $150,000 annually before bonuses.

Irene Day is a credentialed tax and credit expert who uses the TikTok handle “creditqueenirene.” Despite being active on TikTok and Instagram, she makes it clear that this is a side line and not her primary occupation. Her main vocation is as sole owner of Hannah Financial, an Ohio firm specializing in tax preparation and credit repair.

I teach from experience. That’s important. I’m not a content creator. I’m a business owner that creates content.

Hannah Financial was created out of Irene’s own journey to improve her credit. .

I started it because I couldn’t find a reputable credit repair firm. I started Hannah Financial in March of 2017. The service we offered initially was credit repair, and in 2018 we added tax preparation.

Though credit repair remains a key part of the firm’s origin story, Irene sees tax preparation as playing a bigger role in the firm’s future.

Last year I started to transition out of the credit repair space. That had been our primary business, so we’ve had to be willing to see some of the revenue go by the wayside.

Irene understands that some financial ups and downs go with being a business owner. Her approach to dealing with it also carries and important lesson for most households: Don’t let lifestyle inflation get the better of you.

She offers a personal example of how people may be tempted to spend more just because they can afford it on paper, even though they could be perfectly happy spending less. When I bought my house in 2020, I was preapproved to pay as much as $900,000 for a house. Instead, I got a mortgage for $190,000. It’s a question of not spending more than you need.

This type of restraint is valuable if you have a variable income like Irene does. Also, when your earnings can change from month to month, it’s especially important to keep a close eye on your financials. For example, she explains that: as a business owner, it’s a matter of knowing your numbers. You should be looking at your numbers consistently to know exactly how the business is doing.

2. How much is your rent or mortgage?

It’s a mortgage. $1,400, taxes included.

Irene made the jump from renting to home ownership for lifestyle reasons. I was living in a loft downtown and my rent was $2,000 a month. It wasn’t that the rent wasn’t affordable, but downtown living was noisy. And the way some people live is just nasty. It wasn’t worth paying that kind of money having people living on top of me.

While buying a home upgraded Irene’s lifestyle, she also made it a financially savvy move. For one thing, her timing was excellent.

I bought my home in 2020, and got a 30-year loan at 2.86%.

Not only have real estate prices risen since then, but mortgage rates have more than doubled.

Besides good timing, Irene also benefited from having an eye for a bargain. When I bought my house I got it below market in a short sale so I bought it with $50,000 in equity.

A short sale is when a mortgage lender allows a home owner to sell a property for less than what they still owe on the mortgage. It’s a way a home owner can get out from being under water on a mortgage after their property has declined in value. While it’s not ideal for lenders, it’s a way they can recoup some of the money they’re owed without having to foreclose on the property. And, for bargain-conscious buyers like Irene, it can be a way to buy a home below market value.

3. What’s the last thing you bought?

Pedialyte and Vicks VapoRub.

Whether she’s nursing a cold or making other day-to-day purchases, Irene generally prefers to use her debit card instead of credit. Still, she recognizes that having credit gives her flexibility.

It depends what I have going on. I don’t carry cash.

Besides preferring plastic to paper money, Irene has no time for Buy Now Pay Later programs. I think it’s terrible. The default rates on that are extremely high. Typically the people who use that option are people who are looking to purchase something they can’t afford and don’t need.

4. What do you spend the most money on from week to week?

I eat out a lot.

Though she doesn’t maintain a strict week-to-week budget, Irene has a uniquely practical way of keeping her spending in check. This is important, because she admits to occasionally being an impulse buyer.

I can be, sometimes. And then I lie awake at night worrying about it. That’s when I know it’s time to freeze my cards. I put them in a cup of water and put it in the freezer. That way, when I get the impulse to spend money, I know it’s going to take time for the cards to thaw out. Usually by the time that happens the impulse has passed.

As her household’s sole source of income, Irene has the independence to make her own rules for managing money. However, she also recognizes that communicating about money is part of a healthy relationship.

Even when you’re just dating, having general conversations about money is a good idea. Then once you decide it’s a serious relationship, it’s time to start having hard conversations about money. Things like, what does your credit look like, how do you manage your money, how much to you save, etc?

5. What kind of car do you have? How much is your monthly car payment?

2021 Tesla Model X. I don’t have a car loan. I paid it off last year.

Irene bought her car new, largely as a result of knowing exactly what she wanted, despite getting little help from the Tesla dealer.

I did not have a good buying experience at Tesla. I knew exactly what I wanted – the Model X. The saleswoman kept not responding to my questions. She seemed to assume I couldn’t afford what I wanted. But even when it turned out the only Model X they had on the lot was a new, performance edition one, I knew I could afford it. Anyway, I prefer to buy new because the maintenance is cheaper and it’s covered by a longer warranty. Besides, it’s a business necessity so I can treat it as a business asset.

Besides having researched the car she wanted, Irene had done her homework by the time she was offered auto loan terms.

I got a 1.9% loan. It was supposed to be for 7 years but I paid it off last year. Being in the credit space, I knew that my credit was good enough that I could go through the dealer without getting shopped around to a lot of lenders. I also knew what the interest rate should look like. I actually got like a point and a half lower than I was expecting.

The importance of not having a car dealer request loan offers from multiple lenders is that the number of credit checks that can result can hurt your credit score. This is most likely to happen when the buyer already has poor credit. In contrast, as someone with excellent credit, Irene could be confident about getting the best terms right off the bat.

6. What’s the most expensive thing you own?

My real estate. I own four other properties besides my primary residence.

Irene invests in real estate for rental income rather than expecting a quick gain.

The properties I own are in the Cleveland market. Appreciation-wise, I don’t expect a whole lot. However, it’s a good market to invest in for the long term. The rental income is high compared to what you pay for properties.

Being in these investments for the rental income rather than for price appreciation insulates Irene somewhat from the recent slump in the housing market.

It’s not really of concern because I’m in it for the rental revenue. If I were flipping houses, I’d be stressed, but I don’t do that.

7. How much do you have in savings?

About $30,000.

That amount represents liquid savings Irene has built up as a safety cushion for unexpected needs. Much of her net worth is tied up in her business and real estate holdings.

Last year was the first year that I started building up savings. Prior to that I was just putting all my extra money into real estate.

When it comes to long-term savings, Irene views her rental properties as the key to her financial security.

I had a 401(k) at my previous job. Now, my real estate portfolio is my retirement fund.

Irene likes the steady income her properties produce. It comes as a comfort especially after a very bad year for the financial markets.

Stocks scare the hell out of me. I don’t like investments I can’t see. I do not like taking financial risks. I’m pretty sure that there are investments that could give me a faster return than real estate, but I’m okay with the slow money. If you buy right and put the money you need to in your properties, you have very few problems in real estate.

8. Do you have student loans? If so, how much?

About $40,000.

Like many people who borrowed to go to college, Irene harbors some bitterness about the way education financing works. For one thing, she doesn’t think graduating from college has been a factor in her success.

I have a bachelor’s degree, but nothing I learned in college helped me build a multi-million dollar company.

From her perspective, that’s a reason for not paying off her loans ahead of schedule, even when she could afford to. I make my monthly minimum payments, and that’s all they’re going to get from me.

Though Irene would not be eligible for the Biden Administration’s student loan forgiveness program, she is rooting for the proposal to survive the legal challenges that have been made to it.

I think it’s going to win. It has to. Even though I don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness, seeing the burden it places on working people, it needs to be done. But loan forgiveness isn’t even the main issue. The problem isn’t so much paying off student loan debt; it’s stopping people from taking on so much student loan debt in the first place.

Her sympathy for student loan forgiveness comes in part from knowing first-hand what it was like to struggle with that debt back before her financial success. Asked if she ever had trouble making a student loan payment back then, she answers emphatically:

Absolutely. That’s why I think it’s very important to forgive student loan debt. When people who’ve never had that problem say they’re against loan forgiveness, it’s like saying “well, I don’t have cancer, so I don’t think we should allocate money towards curing cancer.”

One difference between Irene and many student loan borrowers is that when she was struggling to make her payments, she availed herself of one of the payment assistance programs the federal government has offered for years.

I was on income-based repayment. Income based repayment is under-used because people have no idea about it. One of my strengths is that I’ve always been able to figure things out. I have no problem reading and researching. Finding solutions and knowing how to communicate them to people is what’s allowed me to scale up Hannah Financial the way I have.

Irene thinks having to find her own way through financial challenges has been the reason for her success.

This is why I say college isn’t what made me successful. I didn’t learn to troubleshoot in college. I didn’t learn how to communicate with people in college. This diamond was made under the pressure of real-life experience, not by college.

9. Do you have credit cards? If so, how many?

Thirteen. Most are business credit cards, so some are for different businesses.

Most people don’t need thirteen credit cards. However, it is important to know what they’re looking for when choosing a credit card. For example, when it comes to business credit cards, Irene says:

American Express seems to have good business cards. 0% interest rates and perks are what I look for. Travel perks are most important to me because I travel a lot.

Though her variable expenses and income can change things throughout the year, Irene generally tries to pay her credit cards off in full each month.

It depends on what I’ve got going on. When possible, I don’t like to carry a balance.

At the very least, Irene makes it an absolute to make her minimum monthly payments. She recognizes this is a key to the strides she has made in improving her credit after having problems with it when she was younger. When asked if she’s ever missed a credit card payment, she explains:

Not recently. Not since I repaired my credit. Prior to that? Absolutely.

10. What’s one of your financial goals?

I really want to be able to buy my mom a house this year.

30-year mortgage rates doubled last year, which could make this goal more difficult to meet. However, Irene doesn’t believe in letting short-term conditions stand in the way of her goals as long as she has a plan for dealing with them.

That won’t stop me. The reason I haven’t bought my mom a house yet is I’m looking for a specific type of house close to my home. Interest rates may be high now, but they won’t be high forever. If I could find the right house now, I’d buy it and then refinance it later when rates are lower.

11. What’s your credit score?

846, and I check my credit using the Credit Sesame app.

Though she has a near-perfect credit score, Irene doesn’t set specific goals about where she wants that score to be.

Anything over 760, you’re going to get the same rates as someone with an 850 credit score. I just make sure I pay everything on time and keep my credit utilization low.

Irene’s credit score has come a long way. She remembers it being 420 when she was younger. She made a conscious decision to turn it around because she recognized the restrictions that having bad credit put on her.

Not being able to do anything – not being able to live where I wanted to live, having to pay crazy deposits for what I wanted to do, it was a big burden on my lifestyle. I had a lot to clean up on my credit record, and I had to do a major mind shift in terms of how I deal with money and credit.

Besides cleaning up her own financial act, Irene learned through hard experience not to let others impact her credit. The top piece of advice she’d give her younger self?

Don’t cosign for anybody. Ever. If somebody needs you to cosign, it’s because they ruined their own credit. Don’t give them the opportunity to ruin yours.

Another way people allow others to damage their credit is by falling victim to scams. Irene has seen too much of this happen to the clients she works with, and makes it a priority to use her social media platforms to try to warn people about this.

In general, in the financial business I’m in, most of the people who come to us do that after they’ve been scammed. I’ve always been outspoken about this. I strive to do the right thing and push other people to do the right thing. I’m using my following to preach about not getting burned.

Irene has come a long way, from having to fix her own finances to helping others improve theirs. Though she’s a business owner with a near-perfect credit score, Irene still doesn’t view her own journey of financial progress as being over.

I worry about money every day. I think coming from the financial background that I come from, learning not to worry about money is something that takes a long time to do. Having bills on autopay, waking up and seeing a bigger balance than you ever expected in your bank account, those are things I still haven’t fully adjusted to.

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Disclaimer: The article and information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Richard Barrington
Financial analyst for Credit Sesame, Richard Barrington earned his Chartered Financial Analyst designation and worked for over thirty years in the financial industry. He graduated from St. John Fisher College and joined Manning & Napier Advisors. He worked his way up to become head of marketing and client service, an owner of the firm and a member of its governing executive committee. He left the investment business in 2006 to become a financial analyst and commentator with a focus on the impact of the economy on personal finances. In that role he has appeared on Fox Business News and NPR, and has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, CNBC and many other publications.

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