Financial education continued to provide the predominant theme underpinning the National Credit Union Foundation's most recent round of grant making, with the NCUF continuing to fund projects that it believes strike at an enduring financial problem effecting a broad swath of American consumers.
The NCUF divided more than $287,000 among 17 credit unions, one credit union league and one credit union trade association.
When making the announcement, the foundation cited national survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling that found that 34% of respondents or about 77 million people would give themselves a grade of C, D, or F in finance skills. An additional 78% said they would benefit from answers to everyday financial questions.
“The need for financial education is still critical in America,” said Tom Candell, National Credit Union Foundation deputy executive director.“ This is the second year in a row that NCUF is focusing exclusively on financial education in our grants which will ultimately help more people achieve financial freedom.”
But while the majority of grants shared financial education as a central element, they differed in approach, target audience and the method the projects used to teach the material.
The educational efforts ranged from a project to produce educational video spots that can run in movie theaters as trailers before the start of movies to projects aimed at educating consumers waiting in check cashing lines and programs aimed at bringing financial education to Native American high school students.
The effort to put financial education in movie trailers was the brain child of Susan Brunner, director of community development at the 27,500 member Carter Federal Credit Union in Springhill, La.
Brunner, who has a background as a cultural and artistic entrepreneur, saw the opportunity in using available video production facilities and combining those with a common summertime activities for lower income young people in Springhill–going to the movies.
“There is a gentleman who has a movie camp each year in the summertime for young people in Springhill,” Brunner said. The grant will help the credit union produce educational videos about different financial education projects that the owner of the theater will run before features at the movie camp in the summer. It will also go toward financial education videos that aimed at different population groups in the CU and will be rooted in the culture of the credit union's members, she explained.
She said one of the first educational targets of the videos would be to try to educate residents about the true expense of payday loans and the different ways they can avoid needing them. The foundation granted the CU $25,000 for the effort.
Consumers waiting in line to cash payroll and other checks might seem to be an odd and maybe transient population for a financial education effort, but Haydee Moreno, director of microbranching for Self Help Federal Credit Union, the federally chartered affiliate of Self Help Credit Union, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., countered that they are just the people the CU wanted to reach.
The credit union launched the branch last year in what Moreno acknowledged was a shameless bit to imitate a standard check cashing operation, at least from the outside. The branch is located in a strip mall in East San Jose, an area known primarily for check cashing operations along with pawn shops and rent-to-own operations. It's a small space, only 900 square feet, and it has the sorts of hours and signage that would be familiar to check cashing customers as well.
But Moreno said the microbranch also differs from a typical check cashing store as well. It is cleaner and better lit than many and has an interior more reminiscent of a credit union branch than a check-cashing outlet. People who come there can cash their checks for about half the cost, 1.75%, of the average check cashing rate in the area and, over time, learn something about becoming credit union members and about ways they can stop using check cashers.
“What we figured out is that we have to address the people using check cashing in the context of their daily lives, including the fact they use check cashing,” Moreno said. Approaching them from outside only and asking them why don't they try a different approach was not going to work, she added. “They use check cashers because they lived a life where they needed to use check cashers,” she said, adding that it was easier to make a point about a different approach to handling finances when the person is used to coming to the microbranch and trusts the credit union.
The $30,000 grant will help Self Help FCU develop more targeted educational materials accessible at the microbranch.