SUNRISE, Fla. – The $265 million BrightStar Credit Union has joined the roughly 250 credit unions nationwide that have chosen to outsource financial counseling for its members to San Francisco-based BALANCE Financial Services. "We recognized that we could do this ourselves by providing some of our staff with the training they would need to address all the financial issues that BALANCE addresses," explained Sam Chesser, vice president with BrightStar. "But we realized that approach would be the more expensive and less efficient option." Chesser said that the program has been up and running for BrightStar's 38,000 members for about four months and even though only a minority of members have used the service so far, it has been very well received. "Our members are really pleased to hear we have this as a core benefit," Chesser said, "and it's one more way we can differentiate ourselves from a for profit organization." The BALANCE service is free to members but costs the credit union a flat fee which is based upon the number of members the credit union has. BALANCE provides over the phone financial counseling and training in everything from basic financial advice on credit use to household budgeting to actually negotiating with creditors for payment plans. Chesser said the CU signed up for the program even recognizing that, in the case of a troubled member, the credit union may be one of the creditors with whom BALANCE must negotiate on behalf of the member. "From our perspective we are happy about that," he said, "because it helps protect us. The BALANCE program also gives us an option if we have to turn down a member for credit. Where before all we could really do was tell the member in as kind a way that we could that we had to deny them credit, now we can direct them to BALANCE for help in getting the financial advice they need." BALANCE can also play a key role in helping consumers recover from cases of identity theft, a process which some have estimated can take as long as 21 days of work by the identity-theft victim. BALANCE can help cut that time by providing targeted advice to help an identity-theft victim overcome the impacts of the fraud. -

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