Photo depicting Tonita Webb standing inside the main entrance room of Verity Credit Union.

OPINION: What I Wish My Younger Self Knew About Money That No One Told Me

by Tonita Webb

If you asked me when I was a little girl if I would become a CEO, I would have probably said no. But I knew I was going to achieve something great. It was a belief instilled in me by my grandfather. Today, however, I wish we’d had follow-on conversations about how achieving something great would also mean making money — and how important it was that I knew what to do with that money. Especially since making money would result in having a different relationship with money than I was used to seeing in my family and community. If we were to have had those conversations, I think my grandfather would have started by saying, “If your goal is to have money, it’s never going to be enough money.” And: “You’ll be able to earn more money, but you need to also earn more wisdom around money and find a purpose for that money.”

This is where the four main things I wish I would have known come into play:

  1. Understanding Tax Consequences of earning more money and owning property. No one ever told me that the more money you make, the more tax you pay. It seems obvious now, but without knowing, it was quite a shock to experience a tax refund that turned out to be a request for tax payment.

    You need to know about tax brackets and how to plan for it. You need to understand what happens when your kids can no longer be claimed. Own a vacation property? That has an impact, too.
  1. I also wish I would have learned How to Talk to My Kids About Money. A common phrase I grew up with is “You don’t owe anyone,” meaning don’t take on any debt. But the truth is, establishing credit or “owing someone” is a significant step toward being able to buy a home and establishing generational wealth. My own grandfather, a small-business owner for decades, only dealt in cash due to a lack of trust and understanding of the financial system.

    I want everyone to know how to address topics with their children like establishing credit and investing your money. It goes far beyond establishing a savings account. 
  1. How to Build Generational Wealth. As a child, no one helped me understand the “possibilities” associated with saving money. They just said, “Save your money.” In my community, saving money was also complicated, as our relationship with financial institutions was wrought with negativity, exclusiveness, and lack of belonging — sometimes even shame. I wish someone would have taught me a more balanced message, like how to save for something big (a home, for instance) alongside feeling OK spending on experiences like travel and personal items that enhance our lives. 

    It also would have been eye-opening to have learned earlier that People of Color can and do own multiple properties. In the community where I grew up, we often heard owning a second house is only for white people. It’s time to tear down these beliefs and reimagine how we invest our money within and outside of our communities. 
  1. Establishing Credit and Why It’s Important. Since information and education about credit is not readily available in BIPOC communities, the message I received about credit, growing up in a predominantly Black community, was that it was negative, and created to penalize Black people. As a result, I didn’t have a positive relationship with credit. I thought it was bad, and it made me nervous. Over time, I learned the control I had over my own credit, and how to slowly build credit while keeping an eye out for common pitfalls, especially for BIPOC communities. 

    For businesses that offer credit to consumers, it’s imperative they talk about credit in relation to their audience, as it’s not a one-size-fits-all conversation. 

Everyone probably has their own list of what they wish they had learned about money from a young age. For me, it’s particularly important to vocalize the things that are rooted in systemic and historic bias for People of Color. The way for the BIPOC community to gain financial literacy and savvy is by being part of the financial community, not avoiding it. 

In my personal and professional life, my goal is to ensure all people, especially our BIPOC communities, see what they do know about money and finances and build upon that while removing the shame associated with not knowing. None of us learned everything the right way about money, so: It’s OK not to know. 

And now that I do know more about money, it’s on me and the rest of the financial world to bring tangible and practical information to those who don’t, with an understanding and acknowledgment of the cultural influences they may have experienced on the topic. Financial health and success for ALL is instrumental to a healthy and successful community at-large.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Tonita Webb is the CEO of Verity Credit Union, the financial institution’s first Black, female CEO and one of few in her position nationwide. She continues to move Verity forward in socially responsible banking to create vibrant communities. As an Air Force veteran, an MBA, and a mother of four, Tonita leads by example and gives herself freely to her community work. She currently serves on boards for nonprofits like SouthEast Effective Development (SEED) and 21 Progress, plus social enterprises like Pioneer Human Services. She is a champion of diversity and inclusion and is a frequent public speaker on the subject.

📸 Featured Image: Verity Credit Union’s CEO Tonita Webb is pictured at her company’s newest branch located in West Seattle and is photographed March 16, 2021. Working the branch behind Webb are branch staffers (left to right) consultant Meggie Garcia, branch manager Audrey Hartman, and consultant Maddie Rich. Photo courtesy of Tonita Webb.

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