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SAN DIEGO – Carmen Guardado, a stay-at-home mom with five young children, got an early and very welcome Christmas present, courtesy of USE Credit Union here. Guardado, a member of the credit union for only seven months, was the $25,000 grand prize winner in USE’s “Xtreme Financial Makeover Contest.” She received her prize on Dec. 14. “It’s definitely going to be a happier Christmas,” said Guardado, who admitted that most of the holiday shopping for her husband, Miguel, a machinist at a local turbine plant, and her children had already been done. The Guardado children range in age from 4 to 11. Carmen Guardado said the windfall would be used for “a little bit of everything.” That includes Christmas extras (“all the fun stuff”), putting some in savings, maybe using some for a vacation and doing some home improvements. “We don’t even have grass in the front yard,” she said. Guardado’s name was selected at random from more than 2,400 entries in the contest, which ran from July 1 through Sept. 15. Guardado wasn’t the only winner in the two-pronged contest. Six other credit union members each received $2,500 first place prizes in the contest, which was open to the public. In addition, credit union members including Guardado took advantage of the credit union’s personal makeover challenge which offered to pay them $25 if the credit union failed to show them how to improve their finances by $2,500 or more in just 25 minutes. “We walked people through an Xtreme Financial Makeover workbook that helped them learn how to fine-tune their finances to the point where they could save a lot of money,” explained Kevin Moyle, creative services manager. “We ended up helping a lot of people give themselves their own financial makeover via USE Credit Union.” Only three people couldn’t be helped and received the $25 payments, he reported. Advice offered by the credit union included ways to consolidate high-interest rate credit cards and how to obtain a lower interest mortgage. “Our goal is to teach consumers, through information and financial tools, that it isn’t how much money you make but how well you manage the money you have that matters,” said Linda Baughman, president and CEO at USE. Baughman and others from the credit union went to Guardado’s home early on Dec. 14 to surprise the family with an oversized check for $25,000. The family had earlier been alerted that they were among those selected to receive the $2,500 first prize. “We figured $2,500 would be great,” said Guardado, who joined USE from another credit union because it was closer to her home. “This was a really good surprise.” The financial makeover program for USE members will be ongoing and the contest will be held again in 2005. “Our promise to our members and the public that wants to join USE Credit Union is we’ll show you a $2,500 improvement in your finances in the first 25 minutes in your first visit with us or we’ll pay you $25,” Moyle said. “If we can’t show you on paper how we can save you, or increase your cash flow, by $2,500 right off the bat, we’ll pay you $25.” USE CU says several hundred people have taken advantage of the program so far. Moyle described the response as “enormous” and said the idea “must have struck a chord with members because a lot of people are taking advantage of the makeover.” USE, with some 80,000 members and $680 million in assets, promoted the contest on billboards, in malls and movie theaters and through Baughman’s “Money Matters” radio segments. The credit union has 10 branches in five northern and Southern California counties. The contest proved so successful – it resulted in what Moyle called a “noticeable” increase in membership over the last three months – that Xtreme Financial Makeover II will be held in 2005 with another grand prize of $25,000 and six first place prizes of $2,500 each. The prizes will be awarded in December 2005. The makeover concept plays off the popularity of reality television shows. “With all the reality programs on TV, the most important reality was still overlooked – how to help people improve their financial picture,” Baughman said. “We created our Xtreme Financial Makeover to do just that, to help real people face their real financial challenges and learn how to make real improvements.” -

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