<p>MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – Two large employer-based credit unions-one on each coast-are stepping up programs this month to provide special assistance, both material and emotional, to members facing economic duress or bankruptcy. The $1.5 billion Digital Credit Union here has rolled out a broad help package, called “Financial Wellness and Recovery” which includes – among many elements – a “temporary” reduction on loans to interest only as well as payment extensions. Also in the program are the waiver of early withdrawal penalties on CD’s and the continuation of direct deposit benefits for up to one year in cases of a job loss. In addition, Digital is restructuring in-house procedures for handling phone calls from members seeking financial help, hired a San Francisco firm, Balance, to do hotline counseling, and has renamed its collections area the “Financial Assistance Department” as a way to remove a negative image of the function. Meanwhile, the $3.7 billion Boeing Employees Credit Union, Tukwila, Wash., is offering debt management plan counseling to its members as well as discounted prices for credit reports. The credit union contracted with Balance, an independent agency owned by Consumer Credit Counseling of San Francisco. “We are partnering with Balance to complement our existing internal counseling in a way that will handle the overload on evenings and weekends,” explained Aaron Bresko, director of loan support at the 300,000-member Boeing. Digital is outlining its new “Financial Wellness and Recovery” program on its Web site under the heading, “What DCU can do for you if you are now or think you may soon be experiencing a financial setback.” The concept, said Craig Roy, vice president of support services, is to make members feel comfortable in “getting help early” from DCU, before trouble hits. In hiring Balance, DCU acknowledges that “we aren’t experts in debt and budget management,” and so “we’ve contracted with an organization that is.” Through the San Francisco phone service, “DCU members can get free unbiased financial advice and assistance” including reviewing credit reports, negotiating with creditors and coming up with a debt management plan.</p>

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