SUPERIOR, Wis. – For some poor parents, having a reliable car means being able to drop their children off at school or daycare so that they can go to work and stay employed. But often, spotty credit history and the inability to afford monthly payments are the biggest hurdles to buying dependable transportation. A new effort, the Jump Start program, sponsored by a number of local agencies with Superior Community Credit Union being the principal lender, have stepped in to help families in Douglas County here who are at or below the 200% Federal Poverty Level with a $3,000 down payment on 1998-2001 model cars. Using local, state and federal funding totaling $150,000, the Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency (NWSCA) and Douglas County Department of Human Services will help 15 families secure transportation, said Brenda Kohel, NWSCA’s mobility manager. To be eligible, families must be receiving medical aid, food stamps, subsidized childcare or other forms of assistance. They must also have a valid driver’s license, enough income to make a monthly car loan and insurance payment, no recent major driving offenses and no defaulted federal or state loans. In certain instances, a family can only have one other vehicle in their possession. “Superior has agreed to look at our cases more openly,” Kohel said. The agency researched a number of financial institutions in the area and found that Superior had the best interest rates. After the initial requirements are met, the participant fills out an application and credit report request form. If the client’s credit doesn’t have any “major credit problems,” they are referred to the credit union for financing. “This program fits nicely with the credit union philosophy of people helping people,” said Wallace Barry, Superior’s lending director. “We’ve always had the mindset of helping people move forward financially.” Like any car loan applicant, clients referred to Superior will go through the standard application process including a credit history check and determining affordability through a debt ratio analysis, Barry said. Still, a large down payment “always puts you in a better position.” The entire approval process should take a day and car buyers will have a five-year repayment term. After the family has been in the program for two years, they will be required to make a small additional monthly payment to NWSCA to repay one half of the $3,000 down payment. This $1,500 down payment has no interest charge and is amortized for full payment by the time the family makes the final car payment, Kohel said. Throughout the time frame of making payments, the car buyer must keep records of maintenance receipts and attend basic car safety classes. If the client stays in the five-year program, the remaining half of the down payment is forgiven and the car is theirs to keep. Both Kohel and Barry are confident that applicants will be diligent about making on-time payments. “When you lend money, there’s always the risk of default,” Barry admitted. “The idea is to identify the risks. People have a tendency to repay loans when they actually have something that is tangible and relied on.” Douglas County is the second in the state to launch its version of the auto program. The West Central Wisconsin Community Action Agency started Jump Start last year, receiving more than $330,000 to help families in seven counties. -

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