#ExperianStories: Silvia Catarineu

Silvia is a first generation Mexican American raised by immigrant parents. Listen to her story and the lessons she learned about building credit, in both English and Spanish—or read the transcripts below.

Check out some of our other personal finance stories in a variety of languages here.

English Transcript:

Hi, my name is Silvia Catarineu. I am a first-generation Mexican American.

When I was six years old, my parents came to the U.S. Like many immigrants, they came to pursue a better life. Growing up, credit was not something we were familiar with. It was a concept that was foreign to us.

My parents lived paycheck to paycheck. They had a banking account that they used to pay bills and to cash their earnings.

I remember when I was little, we visited my grandfather in Mexico, and he always would advise me to save money and avoid debt, but in that moment, I didn’t grasp what he was saying.

I was 15 when my parents decided to return to Mexico because my grandfather was ill, so I had no choice. I had to go. I was 15. Well, when I arrived in Mexico I felt like a stranger. People laughed at my Spanish because I had an accent, they called me gringa, gabacha, so I didn’t feel comfortable in Mexico. It was a foreign country even though I was born there.

What happened was that when I was 16, I asked my parents permission to visit my family in the United States and I never went back home. Those moments were very difficult because, in a traditional family, women leave home when they get married. And that was not what I did.

My credit journey, I guess you could say started when I was applying for college. I didn’t have help from my parents to navigate the whole college application, and I didn’t realize at that point in life, that that’s where my history was being built.

It was hard to figure out what to do with loans. I was working full-time and I had no choice, so I did take out student loans. I felt relieved that I was able to secure money to pursue my education, which was always my goal.

During college, despite having loans and a full-time job, it still wasn’t enough.

I was making minimum wage, so I did what a lot of students do, which is take out credit cards to supplement. And again, that was an area where I had no idea about fixed variable rates, high interest rates… so by the time I was done with college, I had high credit card debt as well.

Through these experiences, I remember my grandfather telling me not to fall into debt and to pay in cash, but in that moment, I wanted to survive, I wanted to move on, but when I graduated, I graduated with a lot of student loans, and credit card debts, even then I knew I wanted to pursue law school, so I had to see how I paid those debts before I moved on, and to still accumulate more debt.

Then, what I did was I worked for 2 years at a law firm to help me pay my debts before going on to law school. It took me 2 years, and then I was able to pursue my studies in law. So once I applied to law school, I had loans for law school as well. So more interest rates, more debt. But I think at that point, I just wanted to finish my goal, which was to become an attorney.

I was hired by Experian about a month after I passed the California bar, and the first things that I learned when I joined Experian was credit. I had to learn about the company so I learned about credit. I learned about credit scores, debt, loans. That was one of the things that allowed me to consolidate all my loans, reduce my cost, pay off my credit card, and establish credit. It gave me the opportunity to buy a home later on because my credit had improved dramatically.

I believe that the philosophy my grandfather always told me, that I shouldn’t fall into debt and that I should live within my means, he was trying to tell me, and when he did, I didn’t get it until later in life.

One of the reasons I really enjoy working at Experian is because of the view that we have. We want to be the people’s bureau, and having educational programs, having products like Experian Boost to help communities that do not typically have the traditional history of credit, is very important.

It’s also very important for young adults to know what they’re going to get into as they become adults, and I think our programs are meant for that. So that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working at Experian, and I think we’re doing great in ensuring that our communities have those resources so that they can be informed and are not going into a credit situation or a loan situation, similar to what I did.

That is my credit history. Thank you for listening to my story. All the best, thanks.

Spanish Transcript:

Hola, soy Silvia Catarineu. Soy mexicana-estadounidense de primera generación.

Cuando tenía 6 meses de nacida, mis padres llegaron a EE. UU. Como muchos inmigrantes, en busca de una vida mejor. Durante mi infancia, no sabíamos mucho sobre créditos. Era un concepto extraño para nosotros.

Mis padres vivían al día. Tenían una cuenta bancaria que usaban para pagar las facturas y retirar efectivo.

Tenía unos 15 años cuando mis padres decidieron volver a México porque mi abuelo estaba enfermo, así que no tuve opción. Tenía que ir porque tenía 15. Pero mi trayecto crediticio en verdad comenzó cuando presenté la solicitud para la universidad.

No tenía ayuda de mis padres para hacerse camino por el proceso de solicitud y no me daba cuenta en ese momento que allí comenzaría mi historial. Fue difícil descubrir qué hacer con los préstamos.

Trabajaba a tiempo complete y no tenía opción. Tomé los préstamos estudiantiles y me sentí aliviada por poder asegurar el dinero para continuar mis estudios, que era mi objetivo. En la universidad, pese a los préstamos y el trabajo, el dinero no alcanzaba.

Tenía un salario mínimo, entonces hice lo que la mayoría de los estudiantes hace, apoyarse en las tarjetas de crédito. Y esa era otra área que desconocía, las tasas fijas y variables, las tasas de interés elevadas. Así que cuando terminé la universidad, tenía una deuda elevada de tarjeta de crédito.

En la Facultad de Derecho, también tuve préstamos. Más intereses, más deudas. Pero creo que en ese momento solo quería lograr mi objetivo, que era convertirme en abogada.

Experian me contrató 1 año… digo, 1 mes después de certificarme en California, y lo primero que hice al entrar a Experian fue aprender sobre créditos. Tuve que aprender sobre la compañía, así que aprendí sobre créditos. Aprendí sobre deudas, puntajes de crédito, préstamos. Creo que esa fue una de las cosas que me permitió consolidar todos mis préstamos,
reducir mi costo, pagar mi tarjeta de crédito y lograr un crédito establecido.

Me dio la oportunidad de comprar una casa más adelante, porque mi crédito había mejorado muchísimo. Una de las razones por las cuales me gusta trabajar en Experian es por la visión que tenemos. Queremos ser héroes para la gente en los programas educativos, tenemos productos como Boost que ayudan a las comunidades que por lo general no tienen el historial crediticio tradicional, y creo que es muy importante.

También creo que es relevante para los adultos jóvenes saber a qué se van a enfrentar cuando sean más grandes. Y pienso que nuestros programas están creados para eso. Y ese es uno de los motivos por los cuales trabajo en Experian, y creo que hacemos un buen trabajo garantizando que las comunidades tengan esos recursos, para estar informados y que no pasen por una situación de crédito o de préstamo similar a la mía.

Y esa es mi historia de crédito.

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