When Marc Coburn reads reports indicating as many as 21,000 government employees in North Carolina may face layoffs later this year, it hits home.
Coburn doesn’t work for the government, but as senior vice president/loan servicing at State Employees Credit Union, he realizes the news may put even more pressure on efforts the credit union is making to keep members in their homes. The credit union has no SEGs, so the great bulk of the membership is active or retired state employees and their families.
Since February 2009, 7,000 members have taken advantage of one-on-one counseling through a mortgage assistance program. Loan officers take a proactive approach, contacting members more than 30 days behind on their mortgage payments to discuss options.
Demand for the program is expected to increase later this year as legislators cut deep to try and cope with a $3.5 billion budget shortfall. The impact is expected to affect teachers, employees at community colleges and others as well as those working directly for the state.
“In 2008, we noticed unemployment had risen here in North Carolina and real estate values had dropped,” Coburn said. “We realized we needed to develop a program to help members. We tried to get out in front of this.”
“We look at it as a partnership, trying to meet with the member and discuss on an individual basis an action plan.”
That plan may mean agreeing to partial payments for perhaps six months, extending the length of the mortgage, and other modifications.
“Our people meet face-to-face with these families, do a financial assessment, find out what the story is, and make decisions on an individual basis,” Coburn explained. “It’s anything but a one size fits all approach. Our main objective was to not do that. Every member is different.”
After a plan goes into effect, there are follow-up meetings to determine how the efforts are working. If the results aren’t positive, there will be further sessions to develop other alternatives.
SECU made some adjustments in the program early this year. It’s still going to emphasize the one-on-one approach, but there will be more structure and documentation. The 235 branches are being given additional guidance on how to carry out assistance program.
“The same objective still applies,” Coburn emphasized. “We want to hear the member’s story first-hand. Back in 2007 and early 2008, when mortgage problems first started, from articles we read, we learned some 50% of the people who had their homes foreclosed never had a conversation with their lender. We decided that wasn’t going to happen here.”
It’s easy to work with a member who has a good credit score and needs a loan, Coburn continued. But it’s more challenging when someone is experiencing hardship and you want to reach out to them, not just to collect your loan, but to talk about issues and see how you can help.
At the same time, Coburn said, there’s no doubt the program has benefited the credit union as well as members. The effort recognizes nobody wins in foreclosure. Not only does the member lose a home, the credit union loses money and communities are damaged.
“Whenever there’s weaknesses in a system, someone will develop a business to make money off the situation,” Coburn noted. “Loan modification companies have been developed. Their whole purpose is to fill that communication gap between the borrower and the lender. They’re charging sometimes $500 to $2,000 to help a borrower get their loan modified. That is proof there is a need out there.”
Coburn noted the program has enjoyed least one advantage. Real estate values in North Carolina have not plunged as sharply as they have in some other areas, leaving some people so deep underwater they just abandon their home and mortgage. When values only go down perhaps 10%, homeowners don’t walk away.
Another North Carolina credit union, Local Government Federal Credit Union, has established a similar MAP program. Statewide, CUNA data shows that only 1.85 percent of North Carolina credit union mortgages were in default. That’s significantly below the 10.54%t recorded by the state’s banks.