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State Employees’ Credit Union Helps Seniors with New Reverse Mortgage Product

(Special thanks to SECU’s Marlon Lewis for coordinating the visit with Arabelle and conducting the interview! Arabelle’s comments will be shared with the NC Congressional Delegation prior to Hike the Hill this month.)

Like many seniors, Arabelle Plonk’s home represents her financial security blanket. The 82-year-old Plonk, who has called her North Raleigh residence “home” since 1967, watches her finances very carefully.

A friendly sort with a quick sense of humor, Plonk has had her share of challenges over the years. Her husband passed away in 1970, leaving her with three children to raise and a home to maintain.

Having navigated those waters nicely, Plonk’s senior years have brought a new set of challenges. Things like home maintenance and health care costs combined to strain her budget and add stress to her life.

Over the past few years, Reverse Mortgages have been introduced to assist seniors like Arabelle. While they can and do help, many of these products come at a steep cost – some contain incredible servicing fees and other unfriendly terms.

To help bring some sanity and fair play to this line of the mortgage market, State Employees’ Credit Union has stepped up with its own Reverse Mortgage product. Unlike other lenders, the SECU solution comes with much lower fees and a much clearer understanding of the total cost of the product.

In the above video, Arabelle Plonk talks about how SECU’s Reverse Mortgage has helped stabilize her financial situation. Plonk, who previously held a Reverse Mortgage with another lender, now has financial flexibility and peace of mind that was missing before.

Instead of worrying about the cost of her prescription medications and home maintenance, she can instead focus her attention on her weekly ballroom dance classes and occasional nights out for dinner with friends — as it should be!  

SECU has closed more than 80 Reverse Mortgages since starting the program last fall. To their credit, SECU rolled this new product out just as the credit crisis was gaining a full head of steam. It’s another example of how credit unions are trying to help people in some very tangible ways during the recession.

With the Baby Boomers beginning to retire, products like this one will become more and more important to people who, like Arabelle, wish to remain independent, financially secure – and in their homes.


Piedmont Aviation CU Honors Past, Embraces Future with New Name, Brand

Some 60 years ago, the Piedmont Triad region looked a lot different than it does today. Back then, the region was a manufacturing powerhouse, and Winston-Salem was one of the richest and most important cities in the Southeastern US — if not the entire country.

In 1948, Tom Davis founded Piedmont Airlines in Winston-Salem. According to the web site Jet Piedmont.com, the first flight of the airline was from Wilmington, NC to Cincinnati, with Davis the only paying passenger. Out of these modest beginnings, Piedmont grew to be an outstanding regional carrier and one of the strongest airline brands in US aviation history. People loved them because the airline was so committed to customer service.

Soon after the airline took flight, Piedmont Aviation Credit Union got off the ground. The credit union, which began in 1949 with a mere $1,000 in assets, is today a $216 million full-service financial institution serving communities located throughout various locations in NC. Like the airline that gave it life, the credit union also has a commitment to customer service — or in the familiar credit union parlance, people helping people.

Today, the credit union remains a vital part of Winston-Salem, and committed to the members it serves nationwide. But like so many other companies in the Triad region, Piedmont Airlines has long been consigned to the history books.

The airline merged with US Airways in 1989 and Winston-Salem lost its hometown air carrier in the process. It was a heartbreaking loss for this proud city – one of many economic blows it would take in the years to follow before new industries and a new economic direction emerged in the last few years.

Despite this loss, Piedmont Aviation Credit Union enjoyed steady growth in the years following the merger. But as Piedmont Airlines receded further into the history books and out of the minds of the general public, what was a proud & central part of the credit union’s legacy, expressed in its very name, started to become a hindrance to recruiting potential members to the cooperative.

So Piedmont Aviation changed its name on March 2nd to reflect the changes happening on the ground. The new name, Piedmont Advantage CU, is designed to both honor the men and women in the airline industry who helped make the credit union what it is today, while attracting new members who are not involved with the aviation industry.

As PACU President/CEO Judy Tharp put it on Tuesday in unveiling the new name and brand, “Piedmont was an airline that cared about people, and this credit union cares about people.”

When the past is filled with such an enduring legacy, it’s hard to embrace change. Kudos to the credit union then for gracefully honoring this wonderful 60-year aviation heritage, even as it boldly aims for higher altitudes in the years to come.

GAC Coverage: NC Credit Unions Conclude Successful Hill Visits

Nearly 80 NC credit union representatives converged on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to share their stories with members of Congress. Even though credit unions are holding up very well in the financial crisis, there are still some relevant issues on the table – so it was good to meet with lawmakers and relate these issues.

For lawmakers, the credit union visits were a refreshing change of pace from the daily grind of hearing about meltdowns and taxpayer bailouts. The pace up here is breakneck – even more so than normal.

The credit union groups shared their perspectives on issues such as the mortgage cramdown bill, interchange fee income, member business lending and changing the amount of time to restore the Share Insurance Fund. The tone of the meetings overall was positive, and there is a sense that credit unions are the “shining stars” right now as one credit union person put it. 

In the above video, credit union people who made those visits share the issues of importance to their credit unions and speak to the mood in Washington these days.

As part of these interviews, I had the great privilege of chatting with Greensboro Health Care Credit Union manager Genice DeCorte. DeCorte is a passionate advocate for the credit union movement, and cares deeply about people. This truth shines through in the below video, which shares how DeCorte and the credit union are helping people in the current economy.

As we head back to NC there’s a great sense that credit unions, despite all that has happened in the last several weeks, are doing great things in the eyes of our elected leaders.

GAC Coverage: NC Gears Up for Hill Visits

Day two of the GAC agenda is winding down in Washington, DC. While talk still centers on the NCUA Corporate Stabilization Plan and the financial crisis, the official reason for our trip lies just ahead – taking our message to NC’s elected leaders in Washington, DC.

This trip will not only represent a change in location (from the Convention Center to the Legislative Office buildings), but a very important and palpable shift in topic for the group. Despite the gravity of the moment with the Corporate Stabilization Plan and its implications for credit unions, plus the current TARP discussions, the credit union group must focus instead on the legislative agenda with our elected leaders.

As we approach what promises to be a full day of meetings with members of Congress, it’s a good news-bad news situation for credit unions when it comes to that legislative agenda and the health of the credit union system …

The good news is – the house isn’t on fire.

The bad news is – the house isn’t on fire.

As parts of the banking system creep closer to nationalization and the economy falls off a cliff, Congress has a bevy of urgent issues to tackle — fires to put out, if you will. So for credit unions, which are in much better shape than banks, the challenge essentially lies in getting traction on issues of importance in the current Washington climate.

Dan Schline, NCCUL’s SVP of Association Services, discusses the strategy to deal with this reality and the messages credit union representatives from NC will share with members of Congress tomorrow.

One of the messages we’ll be underscoring tomorrow relates to lifting the credit union business lending cap. As you know, the League has been using the video medium in its overall communications strategy for about a year now. And beginning with this GAC, we have videotaped accounts of credit union members who have gotten business loans from a NC credit union. These video messages will be delivered to each member of the NC Congressional Delegation tomorrow as part of our Real People series.

These member messages communicate the strength of the credit union argument on business lending – credit unions have the money and willingness to lend in this environment, and lifting the cap is a way to get needed capital into the hands of people who are creating jobs in the economy. And lifting the cap won’t cost the taxpayers a dime!

One such video is below, and you will find the complete set of business loan testimonials for Congress on the League’s Real People Channel on Vimeo.

We’ll record more testimonials for Congress in the future to show the great work NC credit unions are doing — in the words of their members.   

GAC Coverage: Stabilization Plan, Financial Crisis Take Center Stage in DC

The CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference is underway in Washington, DC! Nearly 80 people from NC have made the trek to participate in CUNA’s flagship political event.

The big topic of discussion is of course the NCUA Corporate Stabilization Plan. CUNA held a special session early this morning to update the attendees about the plan and the work that CUNA’s special committee has been doing to help soften the economic blow for credit unions.

The plan has of course generated a lot of concern and questions among credit unions. But it’s clear that NC folks are resolved to work together toward a solution, and committed to solving the problem using credit union system resources.

The stabilization plan and the ongoing financial crisis will likely be key topics of discussion on Wednesday, as the folks who have come here from NC will converge on the Capitol to meet with their elected leaders. Gregory Jenkins, a volunteer with Greensboro Municipal Credit Union, is one of the people who will head to the Hill to speak with his elected leaders.

This is Gregory’s first GAC – and he’s only been on the GMCU board for two years now. But it’s clear in speaking with him that he has a passion for serving the members of the credit union – especially now that the economy is in recession and so many are struggling. 

Gregory came to the GAC with fellow board member Matt Holmen to learn more about the stabilization plan. Like many here, he isn’t happy at the income hit the credit union will take. But like many others in attendance, he is committed to looking within the system for the solution to the problem. 

Gregory spent a few minutes with me on camera discussing how the credit union is helping members deal with the recession, his thoughts about the stabilization plan, and the message he will take to members of Congress on Wednesday.

Giving the Gift of Savings – to Ourselves and Others

America Saves Week begins Sunday, February 22, and the event comes this year as consumers all across the country rededicate themselves to the principle of saving to buy later instead of charging to buy now. With this in mind, here are two credit union savings programs that crossed my desk this week that I thought I would share with you.

The Rainy Day Savings Account – Truliant FCU

Truliant’s Rainy Day Savings Account is based on the idea that pennies add up over time. On a daily basis, the credit union sweeps the change in member checking accounts to this special savings account. For new savers,  this product will teach both the power of compounding and persistence when it comes to saving money – and hopefully open the door to a new awareness of how people can take charge of their lives by paying themselves first.

The Match Savings Program – The World Council of Credit Unions

WOCCU’s recently-announced Match Savings Program allows credit union people worldwide to promote savings among impoverished  people living in rural Mexico. People who need to pay for basic things such as shoes and school gear for kids — or even a trip to the dentist — open savings accounts. As these new savers contribute to their credit union  accounts, they are matched by your contributions to the program.

All contributions are tax deductible, but the real value lies in helping people empower themselves. Times are tough and extra money is hard to find these days, but I hope you’ll give thought to supporting this wonderful program.

There’s also a Social Networking component to the Match Savings Program, so even if you can’t contribute directly to the program – you can still contribute.

The economic crisis has reminded everyone of the basic value of pay-as-you-go. Kudos to both Truliant and WOCCU for their work, and to all credit unions that are continuing to promote thrift to their membership.

Piedmont Aviation Credit Union Supports Lowe’s YMCA

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday came into being, the day has become a moment to reflect on the memory of Dr King, and the long journey toward fairness, justice and equality in our society. The holiday has also evolved into a day of national service. Across America, thousands upon thousands of people set aside time on Monday to make their communities a little bit better — and in these times of economic despair & uncertainty, shine a little bit of light into the darkness.  

Community service – service to others – is not unique to individuals of course. Companies are often in a terrific position to mobilize resources in an effort to bring about good. Piedmont Aviation Credit Union, like so many other credit unions, lives this ethic in their approach to community service.

PACU  has been a steady partner with the Lowe’s YMCA in Mooresville. The credit union made a generous $25,000 gift to the Y’s capital campaign. These funds were a building block in a larger strategy to bring a modern facility to this rapidly-growing community north of Charlotte.

But not content to simply give money to the Y and leave it at that, the credit union has also supported programs that improve the lives of others. The YMCA’s Summer literacy program, called Starfish Academy, has also received financial & volunteer support from the credit union.

As a result, hundreds of Mooresville-area first and second graders who were struggling to read received an opportunity to improve their reading and comprehension skills. 

Examples like these remind us that true community service and involvement is not so much an event as a way of life – for people and companies alike. And PACU, like so many credit unions in NC, sets a wonderful example of — as Dr. King would say — rising “above the narrow confines” throughout the year.

Home for the Holidays: SECU Helps Family Reclaim Solid Financial Foundation

As the year closes, the headlines are dominated by families encountering financial turmoil. The common themes in many of their stories include unemployment and home foreclosures. And while many of us share in the blessings of the Holiday Season and start thinking about the year ahead, others find themselves confronted by uncertainty and doubt — today and in the future.

George Clifton Young of Asheville can relate to these struggles. He and his wife Shirley encountered a series of financial setbacks in the 1990s. In 1991, Mr. Young was laid off from his job after 18 years of service. Because the job market in his career field was in low demand at the time, it took Mr. Young more than a year and a half to find a job offering a comparable salary.

As you might expect, this employment insecurity lead to financial distress. The family’s savings dwindled and their credit ratings took a hit. They struggled to hold on to their Asheville home, and had to eventually refinance the mortgage — but at a whopping 15% rate of interest.

As you might imagine, this mortgage became a heavy burden. And so, the family’s financial insecurity continued for many years.

But then in 1998, State Employees’ Credit Union was able to refinance the Young’s mortgage to a much lower rate and payment. In the years since, the Youngs have been able to rebuild their savings, build equity in their home and get back on their feet again financially.

It wasn’t charity – it was a real loan with risks. But the Youngs were hard working people, and their determination & character in the end mattered more to the credit union than a FICO score.

As the year draws to a close, I hope all families who are struggling can take a little comfort in the power of George and Shirley Young’s story. My wish for you is for brighter times and everything that you need to lead a happy & successful life.

And to the credit union people who work so diligently to serve people like the Youngs — thank you for all that you do to help people help themselves.

Happy Holidays.

Our Voices: Local Government FCU Helping Small Fire Departments Access Credit

Like more and more credit unions, Local Government FCU has entered the business lending arena over the past couple of years. But perhaps no other credit union has done as a great job of providing needed capital, promoting good will and improving the quality of life in small town NC as has LGFCU.

Local Government’s emphasis in business lending focuses on small fire departments across the State. These departments, which are often staffed through the generosity of volunteers, can sometimes encounter difficulty getting access to affordable capital. And since many of them operate in rural or unincorporated areas of the State where public resources are scarce to begin with, these departments may sometimes fall behind in providing modern & safe gear to the men and women who serve on these departments.

The Swannanoa VFD benefited from this lending program earlier this year, when it was able to get a loan to purchase a ladder truck. While Swannanoa has not encountered the same difficulties in accessing credit that other departments have, the loan still had a big impact. Thanks to a streamlined loan process and rock-bottom rates, the fire department was able to purchase its first ladder truck. The department has long needed a ladder truck, but it could never afford one until LGFCU stepped in with its new loan program.

Chief Anthony Penland of the Swannanoa VFD took time to chat with me late last week about the impact of both the ladder truck and the credit union on his department and the community. Kudos to LGFCU for providing communities like Swannanoa with the tools needed to keep firefighters — and the communities they serve — safe.

Premier FCU Tours the US Capitol

Seven NC folks traveled to Washington, DC last week to tour the US Capitol Rotunda. Having been one of the lucky ones to go, all I can say is – WOW! (Well -WOW, and isn’t it great that I have a  video camera?!)

The tour came about thanks to the generosity of US Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. It was Foxx who donated the tour in order to help Team Little Guy raise funds for the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation over the summer. Premier FCU bid $7,500 on the dome tour, which was far and away the most money raised for a non-profit in the years that Foxx has been arranging these tours to help worthy organizations.

Foxx was so overwhelmed by Premier’s generosity, she also arranged a tour of the Washington Monument and the White House! As an added bonus, she also allowed us to sit in the gallery of the US House while the Auto Bailout Bill was being debated last week. Foxx even spoke on the House Floor during our time in the gallery!

I think all of us were blown away by Foxx’s generosity, not only in arranging these special tours, but in spending time with us after the House debate concluded. Foxx took us to some parts of the Capitol that are rarely seen by the general public, including the Lindy Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room, which originally served as the House Speaker’s private chambers when the Capitol was first built.

The Rotunda Tour was really something else – we climbed up hundreds of steps, and got some really good views of the Apotheosis of George Washington. The videos here do not convey how stunning the scenery truly was. The video above shows the raw footage of the Rotunda Tour, and the below video gives a bit of a history lesson behind the construction of the dome.

Enjoy! And thanks to the folks at Premier (and Congresswoman Foxx!) for allowing me to share this experience!