By the time Star Jones graduated from law school at the University of Houston Law Center in 1986, she had $75,000 in student loan debt and all her credit cards were maxed out.
“When I was in college, they were giving out all of those free credit card offers. It was like they were giving out free money,” Jones recalls. She was also struggling with the all-too-human inclination to “keep up.” “I was trying to keep up with the Joneses, and the Joneses didn’t have any money,” she adds.
Jones was a prosecutor with the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York, until 1991, the same year she began her television career on Court TV. She also became a correspondent for NBC’s The Today Show and NBC Nightly News, and led the coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder as a legal analyst for Inside Edition. Then, in 1997, she became one of the original four co-hosts of daytime ABC talk show The View.
Now sitting atop the corporate ladder as president of the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), which trades on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the symbol IPDN, Jones understands the financial implications of the opportunities that came her way.
“Financially, I got a second chance,” says Jones, who paid off all of her student loans and credit card debt in 1992. She didn’t just change her finances, she changed her financial behavior, avoiding the trap that many who come into money fall into—making the same mistakes with bigger sums.
“I had to get real with the fact that I am my own backup plan,” she continued. “Women across the board who are raising children or are sandwiched between childcare and eldercare become everybody else’s backup plan. You have to know how to prioritize yourself.”
For Jones that meant no looking back. No more credit cards—with the exception of a card she has to pay the full balance on every month—and no more debt.
Jones says if she hadn’t taken control of her debt levels early in her career, she would not have been in a position to capitalize on the opportunities that came her way. “When opportunity meets preparation, there is no job that is out of reach,” she says. “People think preparation is just about having the right educational background. It also means having your financial house in order. You can’t relocate, move, be flexible, etc., if your finances are out of control. I’ve had to move, take lower paying jobs—you name it. You have to come to terms with the fact that that means you have to be financially prepared.”
Jones says she hopes her story can teach others in the black community that they can make different choices.
“Our community is burdened with a post-slavery syndrome,” she says. “That syndrome is the ‘I’m never going to have anything syndrome.’ I was not raised with money and knew that, in good times and bad, I was going to have to work for it. Black people are not afraid of hard work but they also need to think about the mindset and behaviors they need to adopt to become their own backup plan and be ready for opportunities.”
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