WASHINGTON -- The latest round of grants from the National Credit Union Foundation will go to support lower income entrepreneurship training in North Carolina, Latino homebuyers in Iowa and America's Credit Union Museum in New Hampshire.
The innovation grants support the foundation's REAL solutions program. Winning grant applications will fund initiatives in financial education, transaction services, savings, credit or home ownership. The NCUF said that this year 14 grants will be made.
The foundation announced the winners of its fourth, fifth and sixth grants last week. Awards from the previous week included money to help credit unions participate in the volunteer income tax assistance program in Montana as well as funds to advance financial education efforts in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and resources to help a credit union in Washington State fund efforts to retrain workers.
The $1.2 billion Truliant Federal Credit Union received $22,840 for its effort to help budding entrepreneurs in lower income areas get their businesses underway through increased financial education, business and credit counseling to small business owners and entrepreneurs.
"Rural entrepreneurs in particular need greater access to equity capital," observed Truliant Director of Community Services Marjorie Rorie, who heads up the True Opportunities program.
"Our program aligns with the mission of NCUF to 'improve consumer financial independence through credit unions,' by increasing access to loans for low-wealth and rural-based entrepreneurs in underserved communities," she added. "We want to broaden financial options for start-ups and growing businesses. We will make a concerted effort to provide financial literacy among adults and youths to prepare them better for entrepreneurship."
The credit union's program for lower income entrepreneurs has focused on improving credit scores and business planning, particularly business financial planning.
Rorie said she brought the idea to Truliant, which she admitted is somewhat new for the credit union, from her previous background in development and entrepreneurship education.
She also made it clear that while the credit union had not launched the program solely as an avenue to make business loans, Truliant was definitely interested in cultivating the new entrepreneurs taking the classes into credit union members, including their business accounts.
Much of the education Rorie said the program provides focuses on helping lower income people understand their credit scores and improve them, and then to make or update rudimentary business plans.
"In a lot of ways we are talking about the real basics," she said, noting that the classes have been held around the state, in many different places where Truliant has a branch.
"In one class we conducted, 40 out of 48 potential and current small business owners had credit scores under 600," she said. "This is a critical issue. Without good credit, it becomes a struggle to run a business. We also saw that many small business people have no formal plan on how they should run their business. Often this has led to their seeking unrealistic loan amounts to borrow for their business."
In another grant award by the NCUF, the $8 million Village Credit Union was awarded just over $24,000 to help launch the Latino real estate coalition, an effort to help Spanish-speaking homebuyers.
"The Latino real estate coalition will address the need for ethical practices among minorities and serve as an informal policing of best practices," explained Debbie Whittie, CEO of Village Credit Union.
"It will provide education within the Hispanic community and eventually other minority communities, invoke better communications between real estate professionals and their clients and call for stronger partnerships between mortgage industry professionals seeking to break down home buying barriers for Hispanics," she said in the statement. Whittie was not available for an interview about the program as of press time.
The foundation said that among the coalition's goals would be to educate Latinos about the importance of their credit scores and to help improve them; to build a coalition of real estate and mortgage professionals familiar with the needs of Latino home buyers; and to establish a best practices report that will document lessons learned in serving these buyers.
America's Credit Union Museum was awarded $25,000 for its award winning financial education program.
Branded as CU 4 Reality, the program fosters partnerships between credit unions and middle schools to educate young people to live fiscally responsible lives.
The curriculum is taught over two years, combining basic components of career development as well as financial education to benefit students, credit unions and educators.
"The popularity of the program has created widespread demand among credit unions and educators alike, both inside and outside of New Hampshire," reported the Museum's Executive Director Peggy Powell in a statement announcing the grant.