Jeanne Kelly doesn’t want you to be in her shoes after divorce
Author, speaker, and credit coach Jeanne Kelly came from humble beginnings as a Solo Mom working from her basement to support herself and her daughter, Cassandra (now 20). She founded the Kelly Group in 2000, is author of The 90-Day Credit Challenge, and has worked her way up to become one of the country’s leading credit consultants and experts on credit-score improvement.
Advising major corporations, writing for top publications and online resources, and appearing on national television, Kelly is the go-to advocate for individuals hoping to improve their credit scores, finances, and lives.
Q: What exactly is a credit coach?
A: We all use credit: car loans, mortgages, rent. I help people understand and maximize their credit while getting them the highest credit score possible. This can help them secure lower interest rates. On a mortgage, for example, this could save them thousands of dollars over the years.
Q: When does someone call you?
A: They tend to call me in a panic when they are looking for a home. That’s when people see the big bang for their buck. Unfortunately, I do get [calls from people who are dealing with] identity theft, data breach, and divorce—the people who’ve had a rough time and want to rebuild.
Q: What’s our credit score goal?
A: I would love if everyone could be a 740 and above. That’s an A+.
Q: How did you get into this business?
A: I got into it after my divorce. When my marriage ended, I went to get my own place and discovered I had horrible credit. Things I didn’t realize would affect my credit, like paying my car loan late, breaking an unreasonable cell phone contract, even a missed $10 copay at a doctor’s office went on my credit as a collection. When I looked for help, nobody was doing what I needed to fix it.
I had to move in with my parents. They helped me with my daughter—thank goodness. I’d waitress at night and be up with Cassandra all day. Once I figured out a way to fix my credit, I thought “If if I could do this for me, I could do it for other people.” I quit waitressing to give it my all. When I got that first paycheck, I only had $125 in my bank account.
Q: How did you get your first client?
A: This was back before websites and Google, so I went through the Yellow Pages and cold-called mortgage brokers. I wouldn’t give up. “I can help you close more loans. I can help the clients with credit issues, and you can keep them in the pipeline.” Finally, this guy, Mike Daversa, answered my call by accident, but let me give him my pitch. It turned out he had a client who needed my help.
Q: How did you become a Solo Mom?
A: I got married at 21, had Cassandra at 25, and by 26 I was separated. It just didn’t work out. I went from being a newly married woman living in a new home to being a single mom living with my parents. For a while, Cassandra was every other weekend with her father, but then he kind of drifted away. So did the child support. It wasn’t worth going after. I could take care of her, and if he only saw her every couple of months, I didn’t want to talk money.
Cassandra and I were always, really, just the two of us. I wouldn’t change it for a second. I loved it. I got remarried three years ago, but until she was in high school, I didn’t have time to date.
It all goes by so fast. Her senior year everything was, “This is your last . . .” It was sad, but she was excited to grow and get out. My husband came in at the perfect time.
Q: As a Solo Mom running a business, how did you meet men?
A: When Cassandra was in ninth or 10th grade, I started going out. I’m always networking because of growing my company. Friends would introduce me. Really, I just wanted to get out of the house. I met my husband because every Friday his daughter was my waitress for lunch. She introduced us one day.
I’m blessed I got three other girls out of it. Two of them are pregnant! And my daughter got sisters. So I tell my girlfriends, your children can get that father bond at any age.
Q: Did being a Solo Mom impact your career?
A: I wanted to be involved with my daughter, her life, her school and classroom. When I thought of this career, I thought it was a way [I could that]. I didn’t expand my company as big and as fast because she was always my first focus.
Q: When you went from married to single, did you feel a shift in your community?
A: Yes. I felt like I divorced my friends as well. My best friend has been in my life since the day I was born, and my original girlfriends stayed. But it’s the couples that disappear. When I went to the new school as the single mom, the other mothers didn’t take to me.
Q: What are you most proud of as a Solo Mom—besides Cassandra?
A: Cassandra has made me who I am. I love owning my company, the challenges. I am proud of being an independent woman with her own career, her own ideas. If I want something else—extra time, more income—I can decide that. I’m proud I was able to have it all with no regrets.
Q: Can you recommend resources for Solo Moms who want a better command of their finances?
- myFICO is where you can get your FICO credit score (90% of lenders use the FICO score) and credit report.
- Mint organizes your bills.
- LearnVest helps you invest, and you can start really small.
Q: What your favorite Solo Mom tip?
A: In those early years, no matter what, I had a sitter every Thursday from 4:00 until 9:00. It had nothing to do with dating. It had to do with getting out and still being Jeanne Kelly. Just to have that me time.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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