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ROCKFORD, Ill. – Since 1996, Family Credit Counseling Services (FCCS), a Rockford, Illinois-based credit counseling service, has worked to help individuals and families establish or reestablish good financial understanding through counseling, advocacy and education. Most recently, FCCS has gone one step further by offering an innovative program that has helped thousands reestablish banking relationships. Get CheckingT is a comprehensive checking account management program geared specifically towards consumers who may have had account management problems in the past. Once a consumer completes a six-hour workshop (taught by FCCS instructors) he or she receives a certificate that entitles the “graduate” to open a deposit account at one of many participating financial institutions. Recent studies from the Federal Reserve Board indicate that almost 10% of American consumers are “unbanked,” meaning that there are 25 million consumers who have no banking relationship with a mainstream financial institution. Many of these consumers – who are disproportionately low-income and minority – have had little or no exposure to legitimate financial services. Some may have had accounts at a financial at one time, but problems with account management caused financial institutions to close their accounts. Consequently, currency exchanges and “payday loan” centers have become the only option for many unbanked consumers for routine financial transactions, and the endless cycle of fees and exorbitant interest rates associated with these types of businesses have further complicated the financial lives of unbanked consumers. “The program is really simple,” says Michael McAullife, president of FCCS. “All a participant needs to do is bring in a copy of their ChexSystemsTM report for us to review. We’ll need to make sure that all financial institutions are repaid any outstanding fees associated with past account relationships. After that, we can enroll them in the workshop.” McAuliffe began offering the Get Checking program in June 2004, and is pleased to have already partnered with several Illinois financial institutions who service the northern third of the state. “The best part,” continues McAullife, “is that the program is completely free to all participants. FCCS is a non-profit whose mission is to provide financial education for consumers. Charging for our services would not be appropriate.” Although enrollment in Get Checking is open to consumers who have had account management issues in the past, McAullife is clear that the program is not available to consumers with a history of account fraud, such as check kiting or forgery. Get Checking was developed in 1998 through a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, social service organizations and local financial institutions in that city to address the lack of access to financial services by low-income Milwaukee residents. In 2001, eFunds Corporation became a partner in the program, and through its distribution network of banking products and solutions, eFunds was able to introduce Get Checking nationally. Since 2001, more than 80 financial institutions now participate, and 30 of these are credit unions. Over 3,800 participants have gone through the program as of year-end 2003, and 96% of Get Checking “graduates” have opened checking accounts. According to feedback by the participating financial institutions, customer retention is solid. One of FCCS’ new partners in the Get Checking program is MembersAlliance Credit Union in Rockford. “The goal of Get Checking is completely in line with our mission: we want our members to be good consumers, who in turn, benefit our industry,” says Cheryl Sio, president of the 19,000-member credit union which serves Rockford and two neighboring Illinois counties. MembersAlliance is eager to promote Get Checking. Its new accounts staff and member representatives at its three branch locations proactively seek to identify members and potential members who may benefit from the program, and information on Get Checking is included on MembersAlliance’s Web site. “Unlike other institutions, we don’t automatically close members’ accounts if they are having account management problems,” adds Sio. “We place them `on hold,’ and reactivate them once they’ve gone through the program and have a certificate.” Sio also emphasizes that participants who join MembersAlliance through Get Checking are in no way “special” or “provisional” members. “The accounts we open for Get Checking participants are not `special accounts’ with additional restrictions,” says Sio. “These are the same conventional checking accounts that are available to all qualifying members.”

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