In the 54th edition of our Best of the Best Blogger Series, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve Rhode from GetOutofDebt.org.
Steve’s story is remarkable with life experiences that anyone, not only those struggling with debt, can derive true inspiration from.
Not long after Steve’s real estate company went bankrupt in 1990, he founded a non-profit organization, Debt Counselors of America (subsequently renamed MyVesta), built specifically to help consumers find solutions to their debt problems. The company quickly mushroomed from 2 employees to 70 and was one of the first debt relief organizations to take a holistic approach to debt management. The organization included staff psychologists, lawyers, mediators, employment specialists, CPAs, tax experts and even the first inpatient treatment program for compulsive spending.
Steve has authored 3 books, has appeared on FOX, CNN, ABC, NBC and MSNBC and has spent time working with several celebrities to provide counseling for their money troubles. Steve lived just outside of Liverpool in the United Kingdom for several years where he was invited to Parliament to testify about financial literacy issues. He also established debt assistance programs in other European countries as well, including Ireland and the Netherlands and studied the different debt assistance programs throughout Europe extensively.
But Steve’s Get Out of Debt Guy experience is just a small part of his uniquely eclectic life experience. He’s a licensed pilot, a lifelong scuba diver and even had a stint as a freelance photojournalist with Rolling Stone magazine. Steve also spent time as an ophthalmic surgical assistant at one point in his life.
But Steve’s most fascinating avocation would most likely be his digital restoration of WWII original 16mm gun camera films, which has given him the opportunity to speak directly with a number of fighter pilots who flew Mustangs and Thunderbolts over Europe in WWII.
Steve has been nominated for the Consumer Advisory Panel at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post Money column.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Steve recently to talk about the emotional impact of debt, Airbus A-320’s and wiggling eye parasites, among other things.
Q: Youve been very upfront about your financial struggles with debt, including a bankruptcy in the early 90s. In what ways have your struggles financially reshaped and made you a better human?
“Oh my gosh. It turns out that my bankruptcy and the journey I followed afterwards was the most pivotal experience in my life.
Dealing with the bankruptcy and everything I went though was very difficult at the time but having lived through that experience I learned so much about all the hidden and emotional issues you face and deal with. I lived through all the fear, shame, loss of self-esteem, depression, acceptance, and rebirth. I rode the whole roller coaster.
My experience helped me to be sympathetic to others facing the same hurdle with love, care and a holistic approach.
Since 1994 I’ve been helping people navigate their way through the rough waters of debt and if it had not been for my own struggles and what I learned I doubt I would have ever veered off on this journey. And because my greatest failure is my biggest strength I’ve been able to help so many people.”
Q: What is the single most important thing that youve learned about your debting experience?
Youve done an incredible job of pivoting your financial struggles into success as an author and a businessman. If you could rewind the tape and change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I’d like to clear the air. I’ve never made a purposeful intention of being successful because of my debt. My motto is ‘If you do good things, good things will happen’.
Any success I have is directly related to my singular focus on always trying to to the right thing to help people as best I can.
If I could change one thing about my debt experience I would say I should not have lived with my bankruptcy secret for ten years before going public with it. My assumptions and fear of what people would think were all wrong. Going public with it was one of the most liberating things in my life and I have the Washington Post to thank for that.”
Q: Youve really dedicated yourself to a life of service that includes your non-profit work with the Myvesta Foundation. Who benefits more from the service work you do, yourself or the people youre actually helping?
“I have founded and run nonprofit groups in both the U.S. And UK but the Myvesta Foundation is a for profit entity.
What I learned from my experience in the nonprofit world is that most people don’t realize nonprofits of all types make a lot of profit, they just don’t pay tax on it. The nonprofit label has to do with their tax status, not the way they make money.
As a for-profit social enterprise, the Myvesta Foundation pays tax which helps others and we help people at the same time. It’s probably the more all around holistic approach to helping.
My focus is always on helping others.”
Q: Saying that you have diverse interests is a gross understatement. Youre a licensed pilot, an experienced photojournalist, including a stint as a freelancer for Rolling Stone. You were even licensed and trained as an ophthalmic surgical assistant. So that begs the question — what do you want to be when you grow up?
“I’ll let you know. LOL. It certainly was not to be a debt coach. I didn’t set this as a destination, life just led me here.
I have no aspirations on being any one particular thing and I’ve achieved many of my dreams already.
I’m a consumer advocate, pilot, motorcyclist and a scuba diver. I’ve driven a F1 race car (just for a day) and flown a DC-3, I’ve been to the White House as part of the press, I’ve traveled many places around the world and lived overseas in Africa and the UK.
For me I guess there is no destination, just a journey.”
Q: Whats your stance on credit cards? Useful? Or the root of all evil?
“A credit card is safer to use than a debit card. It is nothing more than an instrument to make a financial transaction. It is not the root of all evil, no more than having sharp knives in your kitchen, even though they could kill people.
A point that many people don’t understand is that debt is never the problem. Debt is the symptom and byproduct of the problem.
As someone once said to me, ‘Shopping is my heroin and my Discover Card is the needle.’ That sums it up nicely.”
Q: What are you most grateful for about your Get Out of Debt Guy experience?
Thank you Steve for taking the time with us. Your story and your life’s experience is a true inspiration.