By Kara McGuire, volunteer financial coach

I first used a credit card when I was 16. My dad added me to his Worldperks Visa card—or whatever the Northwest Airlines credit card was called at the time—in advance of a summer trip. He explained the basics of how a credit card worked, what interest was, the importance of a good credit history and off I went.

There’s no twist to this story. No tale of a maxed out card, or calls from collections, or fees paid. I was lucky to grow up with a fastidious father who explained enough to me about how money worked to launch me into adulthood without any financial woes larger than a couple of bounced checks and forgotten bills. I realize that’s a gift not everyone is given.

I didn’t think much about personal finance until thinking about it became my job—first as a radio producer on the MPR show Sound Money (later called Marketplace Money), and then as a personal finance columnist and reporter for the Star Tribune.

During the Great Recession, I sat in the homes of families who were victims of predatory lenders, as they tried to make sense of how they had to move from their home after 20 years. I talked to students buried in private student debt with no degree to show for it. I spent time in the waiting rooms at bankruptcy court. And I talked to parents struggling to explain money to their kid – the fine print, the regulations, it’s too much.

My time covering money wasn’t all doom and gloom. I spoke to financial advisors who wanted to secure people’s retirements. Teachers pushing for stronger financial literacy standards in schools. Nonprofits—like Prepare + Prosper—that provide the space and support for people to build their financial well-being.

I first learned about Prepare + Prosper when I was a reporter and I wrote about the tax prep clinic. And when I left journalism, and heard about Money Mentors financial coaching, I realized I’d found my calling. I figured I knew some about money and talking to people and so I had a lot to offer. But I’m finding as a coach, I’m learning as much from the participants. I’ve learned about resilience, creativity and the dedication people have to achieving their financial goals.

For example, one young woman I’ve worked with who is getting by on a retail clerk salary figured out how to buy a car, pay off a debt, cut her entertainment budget and find a better living situation—using our time together to talk through her options. Sure I showed her how to read her credit report and discuss financing options, but she did the hard work and continues to make inspiring and enviable progress.

For another participant, a victory was opening his stack of mail. The joyful feeling he had once he took out the recycling sparked a conversation on whether it’s possible to Marie Kondo your budget.

Today, 39 individuals volunteer as Money Mentors for 125 participants of all ages and walks of life. Over a recent six-month period, participants reduced debt by an average of $3,117 and increased savings by an average of $1,236.

Imagine if everyone had a Money Mentor.

If you’re interested in joining Money Mentors to receive financial coaching, fill out the application. If you’re interested in being a volunteer financial coach, email

Kara shared this story at P+P’s annual Tee Off For Taxes Golf + Bean Bag Tournament on June 24, which raised $47,575 to support our programs. If you’d like make a donation, visit our donate page for the various ways you can do so.