BALTIMORE-With only $203 million in assets and 80,000 members, ASI Federal Credit Union is not your ordinary credit union. Even though 50% of the credit union’s loan portfolio is in mortgages and small business loans, according to ASI FCU President and CEO Audrey Cerise, their average loan is $10,000. Part of what pulls ASI FCU’s loan average down are some of the innovative programs they have initiated to reach out to those who have gotten in too deep with predatory lenders or to help their members avoid the trap altogether. ASI FCU starts with what it calls a `Stretch Loan,’ a couple hundred dollar loan to help members make it to their next paycheck. If the member does well with that they can be approved for a slightly larger loan through ASI FCU’s credit enhancement plan. Successful members then graduate to the Asset Builder Loan, in which the `fee’ the credit union charges goes into a savings account, Cerise told the audience at the July 7 Partnering and Leadership Successes workshop. ASI FCU also offers the Payday Lender Rebuilder program where members can payoff their payday lenders with a 15% loan that is good for up to 18 months. In addition, $15 of the payment automatically goes to savings. These loans are guaranteed in part by a National Federation of Community Development Credit Union APPLE Grant, which helps fund anti-predatory lending programs. When the credit union first started this program, Cerise was surprised to discover that many of the people did not know whom they were borrowing from because they got the funds over the Internet. Though the credit union originally planned to pay off the loans directly, she explained, they quickly discovered they would have to trust their members to do the right thing, which they usually do. And, ASI FCU is finding that most members make good on their loans. When they fall behind, Cerise said, “They take my call.This is the first time anybody’s ever cared about them.” While the borrowers may not always pay on time, they do pay. ASI FCU is looking for additional grant money to continue its program. [email protected]

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