Originally, SchoolsFirst expected to target low-to moderate-income families with its "Borrow Smart.
Buy Smart" program. Director of Member Advocacy Shelly Berryman said that what it didn't expect was the help the program would provide to the credit union's physically challenged members.
"We've had three or four members purchase a van through the program and be able to retrofit it to their needs and still afford the payments," Berryman said.
One of those members was a woman whose husband was confined to a wheel chair that didn't fit into the trunk of their small car. The woman purchased a Ford Freestar with a large back lift door and was able to keep the payments within her budget.
"Her husband has since died, but right after she called the team member that sold her the car and thanked him for giving her the opportunity to make life easier for her husband in the last months of his life. That's a story that shows why we do this."
Another member who took advantage of the program was an 18-year-old boy recently paralyzed in a car accident. He was able to purchase a car and have it retrofitted with hand pedals.
The Santa Ana, Calif.-based credit union started the program off slowly, with a 14-month pilot phase only offered at a few of its branches. During the pilot phase, 40 members purchased a low-cost car through the program. Last November, the credit union expanded the program to all of its 28 branches.
Through its partnership with Enterprise, SchoolsFirst offers members a selection of used compact cars, sedans and vans under $15,000. The credit union then provides the member with a loan and educational materials through BALANCE Financial Fitness. BALANCE provides educational materials in 100 different languages. Promotional brochures for Borrow Smart. Buy Smart and a page on the Web site, www.schoolsfirstfcu.org/autoloans/enterprsmartbuys.asp, are provided in both English and Spanish.
Since the program was expanded to all branches, Berryman said the CU has sold approximately seven cars in the last seven months, but interest in the program has remained high.
"Lending is down everywhere; we don't have a lot of members looking for cars. Our team members here love the program though because it's like a life saver in their back pocket," Berryman said.
When members come in to get approved for a loan and gets approved only for a loan value much less than they wanted, the loan officers can offer the program to members so they can still walk away with a car, Berryman explained.
The cars available for purchase are at three of the credit union's branches so members can see the cars that are available right away and test drive them.
All the used cars provided through Enterprise pass a 109-point inspection by an ASE-certified technician. Every car comes with a 12 month/12,000 mile limited powertrain warranty and roadside assistance for one year and a seven-day repurchase agreement that allows the member to return the car within seven days for any reason.
"We try to pick vehicles we can get very good buys on for families and people with modest means.
We present the cars to the credit union and if they agree they use them for the program," said Brian Ottman, vice president of Enterprise Car Sales for Southern California.
Enterprise will be holding two car sale events with SchoolsFirst, one in July and one in September.
The events will have 100-120 cars for sale that fit with the Borrow Smart. Buy Smart program.