Ypsilanti residents and entrepreneurs Willie Johnson and Lynwood Powell want to help young people avoid some of the financial pitfalls they experienced as young adults.
"When I first got to college, I was handed credit cards left and right. I was thinking it's free money," Johnson says. He and Powell are co-owners of Bad Credit Is Childish
, an umbrella credit repair company whose services include Time Travel Credit Repair for adults and BCIC Academy for young people. BCIC Academy is an online platform designed to teach teenagers about financial literacy topics.
"As a parent, you want to make sure your own child doesn't make the same mistake," Johnson says. "Why are we still okay with kids going to college, getting credit cards, and graduating already in debt? They can't obtain a house or any place to stay because they were never taught how to build credit."
Before starting Bad Credit Is Childish, Powell worked for local schools as a paraprofessional and later as a social worker. He says he is passionate about education and empowering his community.
"I was in foster care when I was younger, and my social worker was the one who uplifted and empowered me to navigate difficulties in life," Powell says. "So when I became a social worker, I had that in mind. Someone assisted me, and I wanted to always give back in that manner."
He sees his credit repair company and BCIC Academy's virtual financial literacy courses as a way to empower the children he used to work with, along with their parents.
"If only parents knew how powerful building credit is," Powell says. "It's not something that's taught to us in high school or college. I wanted to peel back that layer and let individuals know that you can achieve those goals, like home ownership or owning a car or business or just being financially free."
Powell says people lose a lot of money from ignorance.
"If you don't know, you pay more," Powell says.
Powell and Johnson have known each other since they were young adults working at the same factory together. They both thought they had potential to do more with their lives, but they were stymied by a lack of knowledge about money and finances.
They started comparing notes and sharing their victories as they tried to improve their credit scores. Johnson was pleased when he was able to get a $2,400 medical bill completely wiped off his wife's credit report, for instance.
"At that point, we knew we had a service to provide, because the things we were doing were really working," Johnson says.
Shortly after that, the two established Time Travel Credit Repair at 301 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti and began attracting clients through word of mouth.
They both found gratification in helping adults raise their credit scores and achieve their goals. Johnson says helping someone buy a car or a house can be "life-changing" for that person.
Rhonda Douglas took advantage of Johnson and Powell's credit repair services when she moved for a job. She says her credit "wasn't terrible" but she wanted to make sure there were no issues if she needed to buy new appliances, for instance.
"By the time I settled and introduced myself at my new job, I was in the saddle and my credit was on the upswing," Douglas says.
A few years after launching their business, Johnson and Powell came up with the catchphrase "Bad Credit Is Childish," and changed the branding for their business to match. And in 2021, the pair decided to launch BCIC Academy.
Bad Credit is Childish co-owners Lynwood Powell and Willie Johnson.
"We include a lot of things in the academy that are really important, like the credit scoring system, monitoring your credit, and identity theft," Johnson says.
They began by touring Cass Technical High School and Ypsilanti High School, as well as a Boys and Girls Club, to get the message out about their online platform for teaching youth about financial literacy. Individuals can pay to take the course themselves, but Powell and Johnson want to offer the course at a reduced rate for schools to use.
"We've already been contacted by schools about including us into their summer school or even their school curriculum," Johnson says.
Taryn Willis, logistics coordinator for BCIC, says the Upward Bound program at Eastern Michigan University has discussed bringing BCIC Academy into that program. The BCIC Academy team has also connected with students at a new media course at the University of Michigan, with the potential for those students to come on as BCIC interns.
Bringing on former NFL star Michael Vick as a brand ambassador
has also helped spread the word, not just here in Michigan, but in Vick's home state of Virginia and other locations around the United States where Vick has a following, Johnson says.
Willis says Powell and Johnson don't keep their trade secrets to themselves, but share them with their whole team.
"They empower people on the team, also, to learn about their own credit and do things to fix it," Willis says. "It's exciting to learn the same things they're teaching the masses."
The team also shares their victories, like in a recent meeting where one employee mentioned her credit score had improved by several dozen points.
Johnson and Powell will continue to do credit repair with adults, but they are especially excited about kicking off the academy and helping young people establish and maintain good financial habits.
"We want to empower kids at an early age so they won't make the same mistakes we made, and they'll have a bright future," Powell says.
The first session of the BCIC Academy kicks off in February. More information is available here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
All photos by Doug Coombe.