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.

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.

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.

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!

The Credit Union Century: Taking Solace in Our History of Bold Choices

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“Progress is not the mere correction of evils. Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” — Edward Filene  

I won’t bore you with the economic headlines – you’ve heard quite enough of those to know the situation facing consumers and credit union members. But on a day where the stock market is once again tanking and pessimism seems to be raining down lately like leaves falling off trees, I’m encouraged by the sheer power of the credit union story and how our history should give us great comfort.    

I came across this Online profile of Edward Filene in Jewish Currents recently. In reading Filene’s story, I started to reflect on the world of 1908. How different America must have been for the working class in the early part of the 1900s. And as the head of Filene’s, he had a front-row seat on these struggles as both “the boss” and “the merchant.”

You have to think in both these roles, Filene heard the stories of his employees and customers — the simple realities of day-to-day life of people working hard and achieving little success. The quiet desperation of life in a society that valued blue-collar labor without valuing its human worth. A society where hands got worked to the breaking point, only to be tossed aside upon the breaking.      

We all know the “what happened” when it comes to the birth of credit unions 100 years ago, and that’s a miracle in itself. But maybe the larger miracle comes in the “why” of Ed Filene & the credit union story.

Why would a guy like Filene bother to develop more humane worker policies in the age of Robber Barons and concentrated wealth? Why fight for progressive legislation that protected working people when he had all manner of comfort?

Why travel the world to learn about solutions to human problems that were based on self-help and empowerment — including the first credit union he laid eyes on in a small village near Calcutta in 1907?

And most of all — why would he fight bankers, moneyed interests and the corrosive rot of “that’s just the way it is” thinking to launch the credit union movement in America? Why fight the powerful on behalf of the powerless?

I can’t answer the why of Filene’s story, but I think it’s safe to say that doing nothing amid all this inequity & suffering was the easy choice for him to make. Perhaps the stories of employees and customers moved him to action. Or maybe he was just a fundamentally decent, visionary human being. And so, he fought to create progress as he saw it — the “replacing of the best there is with something still better.”

And a century later, here we are. 

“… without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
Nothing flowers.”
— May Sarton

In many ways, this seems like a time of great darkness. The powerful argue for bailouts because they are “too big to fail,” then take junkets to luxury spas to bathe in their billions. Weak banks get taxpayer money to stay alive, and strong banks get money to “return shareholder value” (and because, well, everyone else is getting it – so why not?). 

But if you’re a consumer in need of a loan, good luck! Oh, and by the way thanks for the help – we’ll look for your check on April 15th.   

“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” — German Proverb

Like Edward Filene a century ago, many of you are no doubt hearing stories from your members today. Maybe it’s a loan someone needs to fix a car, pay a hospital bill or college tuition. Maybe it’s a member who needs more time to pay a loan after learning that the plant he’s worked at for 20 years is closing. Perhaps another member is in a bad mortgage loan and the walls are literally closing in on her. 

The headlines might tell you what the safe choices are right now for your credit union. But after one Great Depression, two World Wars, countless recessions and other times of national struggle, it’s clear that over the past century, the credit union movement was not built on making safe choices. It’s based on listening and empowering — on helping people “replace the best there is with something still better” in a very real and fundamental way.

And as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of credit unions in America — the powerful example of Ed Filene shines a light for us in this time of economic darkness.

Don’t let your fear make the wolf bigger than he is. Go be bold!