Broadening the Path to Homeownership: A Q&A with Ready Life’s Ashley Bell

The Alliance’s executive director, Colin Allen, recently sat down with Ashley Bell, Founder and CEO of Ready Life, to discuss the role financial education plays in the homebuying journey and how expanding resources in this area can set first-time buyers up for success.

Bell leads Ready Life, a Black-owned fintech company, with the goal of equipping communities with the tools to build and preserve generational wealth. Through Ready Pay, a digital spending and payment account, customers can make financial transactions—whether buying a home or just making everyday purchases. Ready Life also offers a platform for small businesses and nonprofits, presenting a new way to accept payments. In addition, Ready Life Mortgage puts forward a new path to homeownership that doesn’t use traditional credit scores for mortgage approvals. For example, when users pay their rent on time through Ready Pay, Ready Life uses this data to underwrite a mortgage and help set families and individuals up for homebuying success.

Homeownership provides an important avenue to build wealth, but the path to owning a home today is ridden with roadblocks for many buyers. What’s more, the gap in the homeownership rate between Black and white families in America is the largest it’s been in decades: 44% of Black Americans own a home compared to the 72.7% of white Americans. It’s time to not only close this gap, but to also put resources in place so all who desire to own a home one day can successfully enter the market and begin building equity.

In this Q&A discussion, Allen and Bell explore Ready Life’s work to build a more equitable path to homeownership:


Allen: What drew you into this area of banking and finance, and financial awareness?

Bell: Credit is like water. Where credit flows, things grow, opportunity grows. Where credit doesn’t grow, things don’t. For me, it’s about those deserts—the communities, the people that don’t have access to that opportunity, to that water.

The co-founder of my company is Dr. Bernice King, and Dr. King and I have been joined at the hip at trying to make sure we can erase those deserts and bring that opportunity to the people that need it the most.


Allen: How did you and Dr. King come up with the idea of Ready Life and expanding access to credit through a new and innovative opportunity?

Bell: Dr. King and I started working together during the Covid crisis. [….] During that time, I was promoted up to the White House to become Policy Advisor on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In that role, I was able to coordinate and work with all of the agencies to help create and to execute what became the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), and in that, it was really tough to reach that last mile of entrepreneur, and Dr. King really had a passion there. She saw the hurt that was going on in our country and the lack of access to those federal funds. In our collaboration working together, we were able to reach many of the people that were off the grid that needed help when big banks and big companies were sucking up all the federal dollars—some using it well and some using it not so well.

During Covid, you had the culmination of a great economic crisis and also at the same time, the greatest civil unrest in our country since 1968, and her father [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] said around that time that there were “inseparable twins” of economic and racial injustice. You cannot separate the two—if you choose to talk about racial justice in our country, you can’t have that conversation without economic justice. So, Dr. King has been focused on her father’s work on the racial side, and I’ve been focused a lot on the economic side, and we felt that joining the two could create a comprehensive ecosystem of solutions that we hope can put a dent in the racial wealth gap, and that’s what is the nexus of what created Ready Life.


Allen: Is there a nexus between homeownership and entrepreneurship? Does having that financial security through homeownership play a role in the ability to be able to start your own business?

Bell: Yes, it’s absolutely connected, and Ready Life is at the forefront of allowing people to be more than a credit score, to be bigger than the three digits that are attached to your name and your social security number.

Credit scores are now the proxy for the old status quo. Every number tells us that when you look at the fact that 54% of African Americans are deemed to be not worthy of having the credit to own a home. Well, that’s impossible to believe that half of a race of an entire people shouldn’t have a home in this country. That lets you know that numbers are off.

For people whose credit scores work for them, that’s great. Keep using them. But for us, we think that there’s a vast majority of people who have the cash and have the ability to pay. That was highlighted when you and I were together in Atlanta—when they showed that the average rent in Atlanta was $1,538 and mortgage was $1,500. So how can you have a system where people are paying the exact same thing, but half of them are able to create equity in their home? And that equity goes as a safety net when there’s a health crisis, and when you’re looking at starting a business and getting a home equity line to create wealth, generational wealth—all those things come from owning a home.

You see companies every day popping up financing cars and other unsecured debt not using a credit score. That model just hasn’t been brought to the real estate market yet. We’re bridging the gap in this new world that believes that credit scores are a thing of the past, and what’s in the future, is a world where three digits don’t define you.


Allen: Are there other resources that the federal, state, and local government should be leaning into to offer opportunities like what you’re doing?

Bell: The federal government needs to do everything it can to help create this new marketplace where we can get investors to come and pull capital, and to create alternative scoring systems to give access to credit to those people who the current system doesn’t serve.

This is happening in silos all across our country now—the auto loan industry is leading it, the unsecured loan industry is leading it, and Ready Life is going to be embracing that as well. What the federal government needs to do is create a regulatory environment where every company doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time—every company who is doing these loans, they’re all coming up with their own algorithms.

The quicker we can speed up creating that marketplace where capital can flow, that credit, that water that we talked about, can reach the people that need it most. That is what the federal government can do the best.


Allen: What can first-time home buyers, who maybe aren’t ready to enter the market yet, do education- and savings-wise to prepare?

Bell: So right now, interest rates are high, not a lot of people are buying houses, and that’s on purpose. But it’s a great time to put yourself in the best position and take advantage of the market when it bounces back.

Ready Life leans into using your rent as a primary indicator of your ability to pay a mortgage. That’s what current credit scores don’t do. Some will take rent into consideration, may give you five points or 10 points here. But at the same time, a missed credit card payment from two years ago will affect your credit score more than paying rent for two years. That system doesn’t add up for me. It doesn’t add up for most Americans. So what we believe is that your rent should be a priority and other things should go to support that.

You should understand how to evaluate your credit, do the things to get your debt down, and to get your credit score up. But at the exact same time, you should also be aware of services like Ready Life, how you spend your money and what you spend it on. We can create a separate credit profile for you and work with you to be able to have a pathway to homeownership that’s alternative to the current system.


The Alliance is working to broaden the path to homeownership by advocating for expanded financial education tools, alternate credit scoring, and more resources to set first-time buyers up for success. Sign our petition to urge Congress to prioritize expanding support for first-time homebuyers.
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