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WAUKESHA, Wis. – The $568 million Landmark Credit Union wants to offer an alternative to payday loans, but it is having a hard time selling the alternative loans, according to Pat Ransom, vice president of marketing for the institution. The community chartered credit union has offered an alternative to payday loans at its West Milwaukee branch as a test program since January, but Ransom reported that the public has expressed only tepid interest in the product. Ransom chalked some of the program’s difficulty up to confusion over explaining what the program actually does. Initially the interest in the area was high, she said, after the credit union hung a banner outside the branch that read “payday loans.” But the credit union soon found that many of the folks who made inquiries about the program based on the sign were easily discouraged by the program’s requirements. “We do run a credit check as part of the application process,” she said, “and we do expect folks to pay off their loans over the course of a year rather than two weeks.” Many people who initially inquired about the loans “just turned around and left” when they heard about the two requirements, she said. While she stressed that the credit union has yet to formally evaluate the test, Ransom said she believed that not enough potential borrowers were willing to give the program a chance. “We do have risk- based lending criteria,” Ransom said, “but we are willing to stretch those in the cases of these loans.” But she also acknowledged that there were limits to how far the credit union could push its lending envelope. Of the roughly 100 applications the credit union took for the loans, Ransom reported, fewer than 20 applicants had been interested in finally borrowing the money. “We already know we definitely want to tweak it,” she said, and she reported that the credit union would soon be evaluating the effort and that it had already taken down the banner, concluding that it had sowed more confusion than clarity in the offer. Under the program, which Ransom reported has no minimum loan amount, a person can either borrow a small sum, for example $500 or $1,000, at 18% interest with payments spread over year. Or, if they chose, a borrower could borrow 130% of their desired loan, at 13.9% interest, and agree to only spend the initial sum they needed. The remaining 30% balance would be placed into a share account, Ransom said. Thus someone wanting to borrow $1,000 under the program would borrow $1,300, spend $1,000 and have the remaining $300 in their share account against a similar need in the future. Ransom agreed that some people are likely just going to want a loan and not be interested in a savings product and those are the folks, she said, that might not be interested in the program. But she added that those who wanted help saving or improving their credit histories could find help from the Landmark product. [email protected]

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