Cortlon Cofield’s mother died when he was 14 years old.
His father died two years later.
“I knew at that point that education would be the only thing that was going to save me,” Cofield said. “It made life real really early. My parents passing at a young age … it was the best worst thing that has happened to me.”
Instead of mourning his father, Cofield spent the next three days studying for his upcoming ACT. He scored a 27 on the math portion, which Cofield said helped him get into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He would earn a bachelor’s and master’s at the University of Illinois, on his way to running his own business, Cofield Advisors, which brings financial planning and literacy to millennials.
In less than a year, Cofield, 26, has built a steady base of clients locally and in California, Alabama, Georgia, and New York. He helps clients with debt elimination, student loan restructuring, budgeting and saving, mortgage consulting, and financial freedom planning. He’s focused on Millennials because he is one and he feels it’s a tremendously unserved market.
“When you tell Millennials about their 60-year-old self, they can’t see that yet because they’re fairly young,” Cofield said. “Part of my job is to show them a simple way to plan for their future self and show them they don’t have to sacrifice everything now for them to get there.”
Cofield grew up in the Avalon Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He lived with his mother, Genita, a special education teacher, until he was 13 before moving in with his father, Anthony, in south suburban Calumet City. Genita would die from a stroke when she was 48 years old – a year after Cofield had moved in with his father — and Anthony, a construction worker at the same company for 20 years, died at age 55 from bronchitis.
As a 16-year-old, Cofield, then a student at Thornwood High School, had lost both parents. He lived with an aunt and his older sister – bouncing around homes, apartments and even a several-month stint at a motel — until he went to college.
“I get my smarts from my mom, but my father’s death was tougher to take,” Cofield said. “I had never lived with him until I moved in with him, and he always worked so hard, and he showed me that hard work paid off. So when he died, instead of working hard with my body, I was working hard with my mind.
“Your parents dying, you can’t really give me worse news than that, and it gave me the perspective that has helped me get through a lot.”
After earning his master’s in accounting – Cofield earned a full-ride via the Accountancy Diversity Fellowship — Cofield became a C.P.A and worked at KPMG and Northern Trust Asset Management for about four years before deciding to start his own business. Some of the first clients were his former co-workers, who, despite well-paying salaries had trouble staying out of debt.
“They had no idea what a 401K was, and these were people with good jobs in the financial industry,” Cofield said. “I figured if they didn’t know these things, there were many others who needed help as well.”
Cofield, who lives on the 28th floor of a South Loop high-rise, said having his own business is a dream come true. He also loves being a minority business owner in a field where black representation is low. According to the National Association of Black Accountants, only 7 percent of analysts and financial managers are black.
He also is a frequent volunteer speaker to students at nonprofits like Greenwood Project and Gray Matter Experience, hoping to instill the next generation that his life is possible with hard work and endless ambition.
“I want everybody to see how this feels because it is amazing,” Cofield said.
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