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NEW YORK – Credit unions in New York looking to promote their services now have a new venue. In an effort to advocate financial literacy and to encourage consumers to use reputable lending organizations, the New York State Banking Department has created the Financial Empowerment Clearinghouse – an online directory of personal finance programs and resources compiled from banks, government-related businesses and nonprofit organizations (www.banking.state.ny.us/fec). “While there are hundreds of financial education programs available to New Yorkers, there has never been one central location or resource providing a way to find out about them-until now,” Gov. George E. Pataki said in his March 10, 2003, announcement of the site. “The Banking Department has put together a user-friendly catalog of resources that has the potential to revolutionize communication and access to information about financial education throughout the state.” “Financial education is important because an educated consumer is one who will utilize the system in a safe way, and [the Clearinghouse] is a great tool for educating consumers,” adds Superintendent of Banks Diana Taylor. “It’s important for people to understand how the financial system works, to ask questions and to get involved. What is a credit union? How do I take out a loan? What is a fair interest rate?” Approximately 150 institutions and programs currently are listed on the Clearinghouse site, but room certainly exists for more. Superintendent Taylor and her staff also are working to promote the site to consumers by traveling throughout the state to talk about free financial resources, by sponsoring training classes, and by attending various local community events, as well as the State Fair in Syracuse. “This really is something great that the Banking Department is taking the initiative to do,” says Bill Mellin, president and CEO of the New York State Credit Union League, who only recently learned about the Web site. “We’ll certainly take advantage of it and encourage our members to participate. Financial literacy is one of our top initiatives, and we’re always encouraging our members to be educators.” In addition to being a resource for consumers, the Financial Empowerment Clearinghouse also is a resource for financial institutions seeking programs to fund, to partner with or to replicate in their own service area. “The value of partnerships today is immeasurable, and the financial community is recognizing that we must work together,” says Viola W. Bostic, deputy executive director of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (NFCDCU). In its Clearinghouse listing, NFCDCU not only describes its services as an association of credit unions but also provides access to members’ program information through a link to the NFCDCU Web site (www.natfed.org). Joe Cummins, community development educator for Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, N.Y.-an NFCDCU member and one of the early Clearinghouse-listed organizations-understands first hand the importance of partnerships within the financial community. Alternatives FCU is working to develop a replicable model of its Credit Path program for financial self-sufficiency to be used by other institutions across the nation. “Our goal is to get people who don,t use financial centers or who rely on pay-day lenders to use organizations that provide financial education with their products,” Cummins says. “We want to help them develop savings, to fix their credit, to develop small businesses. It’s important for consumers to know what resources are available, and the Clearinghouse is one-stop shopping, so to speak, for people to look up what’s available in their community.” “Our goal is to get people who don’t use financial centers or who rely on pay-day lenders to use banks,” Cummins says. “We want to help them develop savings, to fix their credit, to develop small businesses. It’s important for consumers to know what resources are available, and the Clearinghouse is one-stop shopping, so to speak, for people to look up what’s available in their community.”

 

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