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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Underscoring “financial preparedness” for its military members amidst the nation’s new war footing, the $640 million Service Credit Union here wasted little time after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack to cut loan rates and offer favorable CD terms. The move by SCU appeared typical for defense CUs across the nation in recent weeks as they quickly started coming to grips with troop deployments and a heightened sense of purpose and began providing a myriad of financial services supporting military men on duty as well as their families at home. Defense CUs “have very much to offer our military men and women during this time of crisis and in support of crisis yet to come,” declared Gordon A. Simmons, the president/CEO of the 100,000-member Service CU located in this seaport community. SCU, with 17 branches of which 10 are at bases in Germany, said it had prepared its branch staff with financial service “checklists” on how to help its members on everything from overseas money transfers to getting involved in base family support groups. “The ships pulled out so fast we had no time to do our normal briefing,” recalled Robert Morgan, president of the $215 million Amphibious Base Naval Base Federal Credit Union in Virginia Beach, Va. as he described the hectic days in the Norfolk shipyards after the attack. The two big Navy bases in Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area were immediately “closed off” under the heightened alerts and security steps measures taken in the days following the attack, noted Morgan. As a consequence, he said, ABNB personnel were initially unable to handle informational tasks at base branches in such areas as family support, power of attorney rules, and loan rate reductions under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act. The Virginia Beach CU with eight offices has since caught up and “now we’re doing all we can to brief the families,” said Morgan, noting also six CUs in the Hampton Roads area joined in running a weekend ad accepting contributions for families of New York and D.C. victims. Service CU in Portsmouth said it has already reduced its unsecured signature loan rates from 13.9% to 9%-a 4.9% reduction-”in an effort to provide all military members funds for necessary expenses during this uncertain time.” In a related step, Service CU said it was cutting new and used auto loan rates to 5.7%. Both the signature and auto loan rates can be reduced by 25 basis points (8.75% and 5.45% respectively) if a military member has direct deposit “or an allotment in effect or starts one.” In addition, the CU’s “Star” program allows military members in the pay grade of E-4 and below (civilian members who earn $18,000 or less per annum) a 1% higher savings rate. Also, Service said it was offering a six month $250 minimum certificate at the one year SCU: certificate rate “with no penalty for early withdrawal as well as a 50 basis point loan rate discount if the member has or will start direct deposit.” Defense CUs, said Simmons, “have an obligation and duty as an essential part of our great American community to step up and provide financial service and advice that exceeds the needs of our military members.” Apart from providing basic fact sheets on accessing accounts and the SSCRA law on reduced payments, the Service CU checklist also urges providing members and their families “the telephone numbers, e-mail and mail addresses of staff personal who they can contact for financial advice, for problem solving and for general assistance.” John Peden, executive vice president of consumer operations for Navy Federal Credit Union, Vienna, Va., said the $4.1 billion CU has also moved swiftly to accommodate its members. Considering some initial mail problems, the CU “is trying to be liberal” particularly on extending payment dates for mortgages. “We’ve lifted late fees for September,” said Peden. Recognizing the “slow mail,” Navy Federal is also “extending the 25-day grace period” on credit card payments waiving late fees “when the payment is a week or two late,” said Peden. Navy Federal is also putting out new special brochures to its branches detailing deployment services and advice on how to support families and “how to be responsive to our members.” One financial planning article in a Navy Fed news bulletin describes the difficulties and challenges young couples have in managing personal finances “when you’re half around the world for six months.” CU branch personnel stand ready “to give pre-deployment briefings to make sure sailors and marines at sea and their families at home have all the financial tools they need.” However, the Navy Federal brochure suggests to its members that “three months prior to your ship leaving port is not to early” to start making key financial decisions. Pentagon Federal Credit Union in Alexandria, Va. said it also was being lenient on late payments and offering lower interest on certain loans. Pentagon has a “long term policy” with specific details on disaster preparedness as it works with military commands to handle financial needs of its members, said Gordon Levine, vice president of governmental affairs. On its Web site, Pentagon Federal noted that it will waive late charges for payments due between Sept. 11 and Sept. 30 “and not paid prior the expiration of the grace period. This applies to our loans, mortgages and credit card accounts.” In addition, any member using a PenTeller card or PenCheck debit card to obtain cash at Navy Federal ATMs in the D.C. area “will not be charged a fee.” The $4 billion CU also said it wants to assure members “that all funds are safe and there is no interruption in credit union service” at the Pentagon branch. The staff there “is safe and sound” and “we greatly appreciate the concern members have shown for them.” The D.C. CU also noted that considering that some “service members may be deployed at a moment’s notice” it put together some basic information including a “financial checklist for military members” as well as “emergency data form, power of attorney agent’s affidavit form and statement of indemnity form.” For its part, the Defense Credit Union Council, the trade group for defense CUs, put out several alerts following Sept. 11 developments urging its members dust off their own “readiness checklist” on staff preparation. The checklist reminded CUs about making contact with base commands, family support meetings, getting brochures ready and financial access . The checklist, noted Roland Arteaga, president of DCUC, serves “to stimulate ongoing brainstorming sessions and dialogue” among staff. “I can assure you, in due course, time will be at a premium,” he wrote, “and anything we can do now to ensure the financial readiness of our troops and their families will pay great dividends later.

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