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.

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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.

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!

As Other Lenders Sit on Sidelines, Local Government FCU Steps into NC Bond Market

The US just held a so-called “change election” of course. Further down the ballot from the high-profile national races, many voters in cities and towns all across the country considered bond initiatives. These bond questions in essence ask voters to consider another form of change … by choosing whether or not to fund projects that are keys to growth and community life.

As a voter, some of these ballot intiatives might seem a little hard to understand, but when you consider that essential things in your community like parks, water and sewer lines, schools and roads may well have been funded by municipal bonds, you begin to understand and see their importance.   

In many cases, these are the types of improvements that can ensure future growth and improve the quality of life for citizens. But because the projects are so large that financing is involved, voters in those towns, cities and counties are often asked to decide what gets funded.

What has happened in the wake of the financial crisis, however, is that the bond market is giving the thumbs down to these projects, as investors flee credit markets in droves. Cities with home-run credit ratings can’t get bond money to finance projects, and that’s a real shame.

To counter the loss of confidence in the marketplace, Local Government FCU announced recently it is investing $50 million in the NC Municipal Bond Market. These funds will be used to finance some of these worthy projects statewide, and hopefully spur action among some other lenders to jump in to these very safe investments.

Kudos to the team at LGFCU for recognizing a terrific way they could meet needs in NC, and make a bold statement to their membership in doing so!