Ask a HOPE Counselor! Lilian Phung Shares Tips and Stories about Financial Empowerment

What kind of client do you think is the most interesting to work with?

Those that have been working on the loan modification process for a long time, with no success. After years of unsuccessful attempts they are really emotionally charged. But in the end it really comes down to a gap in communication between the homeowner and the bank. The bank just wants certain paper work and the client is giving the bank what they can without understanding what is missing. It’s more rewarding because they have been through a lot – years of emotional turmoil. When I step in, I give them a little assurance that they aren’t going through this process alone. And it’s even more thrilling when it actually works out!

Sometimes I get clients who are facing a sale date two days in the future. These things give you a lot of adrenaline to do your work fast and effectively!

What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for your clients, particularly when it comes to financial management?

Don’t spend more than you have *laughs* – it’s the most simple common sense. It’s a sense of self-discipline. But it’s a lot more difficult than it seems. The world is run with money, so it’s not fair to tell someone to do that and expect them to suddenly change. It really comes down to budgeting and discipline. 

You work with a lot of Vietnamese clients who don’t necessarily speak English. What is the biggest challenge in this kind of work?

For clients, the difficulty really lies in the jargon itself and the banking process. The banking system in Vietnam is not as tedious – there aren’t so many rules, policies, and procedures. Of course, most of my Vietnamese clients have been here a long time, but the terminology is still difficult to express to them. While some of the jargon does translate into Vietnamese directly, most of my clients don’t understand those words, and to be honest, I don’t know if I know how to use them.  I like to find ways of explaining the concepts without actually using the banking vernacular. I try to use the language creatively to get my point across.

Do you know any quick tips for money management? What tools do you use?

 To be honest, I just make my own budget on excel, starting with fixed costs and building from there. It’s a little difficult for my clients who don’t necessarily have a stable income. For them I always recommend the website It’s a free tool that helps you manage your debt by prioritizing your payments - paying off the loans with the highest interest first.

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