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!

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!

Charlotte Credit Unions Launch NCUSIF Awareness Campaign

Eleven Charlotte-area credit unions are rolling out a month-long awareness campaign touting the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). The campaign, which kicks off in the Charlotte Observer on Sunday, will educate credit unions members and consumers on the federal deposit insurance coverage provided credit unions through NCUSIF.

The ad designs follow the Triad NCUSIF Awareness Campaign that launched earlier this month. The Charlotte campaign also has a web site (www.greatercharlottecreditunions.com) that relays information about credit unions and NCUSIF.

Kudos to the Piedmont Chapter for quickly coming together to make this happen!

Members Credit Union Launches Blog to Answer Member Questions About Credit Crisis

A quick nod to the folks at Members Credit Union for launching the Ask Jack blog this week (jackbraswell.com). The primary purpose of the blog is to answer member questions about the credit crisis and its impact on their personal finances.

It’s also a brilliant way for the credit union to communicate clearly with members at a time when, frankly, people are making a lot of false assumptions based on what they are seeing, hearing and reading.

The blog features President/CEO Jack Braswell answering member questions on video. At a time of great uncertainty & fear, Members is once again showing us the way to get the job done – be open, honest and upfront.

It’s important to be bold right now, but in the right way. Because when you get down to it, members really don’t care too much about “capital ratios” and whether or not you “did it better” than someone else three years ago. Because when they call, email or drop by and ask, “How is the credit union doing … are you going to be OK?” … what they’re really asking you is, “Am I going to be OK?”

Kudos to Members Credit Union for understanding this simple, powerful principle and providing a forum for people to ask some important questions.