ST. LOUIS — More than a dozen Missouri credit unions recently got together for the first time to discuss REAL solutions for serving low-wealth households.

The Sept. 15 meeting featured representatives from 14 credit unions to participate in Filene Research Institute’s REAL or Relevant, Effective, Asset-Building, Loyalty-Producing solutions program. The solutions are designed to provide a better alternative for consumers who rely on check cashing and payday loan establishments for their financial business.

REAL Solutions features several key components, including payday lending and check cashing services, and consumer education services. Get Checking(TM), a national financial education initiative, helps consumers gain access to financial services and enhances the credit union’s connection to low-wealth families. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA program provides free income tax preparation assistance to various people in need of assistance, including the elderly, disabled and those with limited English skills.

Nancy Pierce, president of Tipton Research Group, is working with MCUA and Filene on the program. As part of the first step for the REAL Solutions program in Missouri, Pierce will perform an analysis of individual credit unions and determine the programs best suited to meet their community outreach goals. That process will take place in October and November of this year.

“REAL Solutions is not about charity,” Pierce said. “The program is intended to help credit unions serve low-wealth households, while still making good business sense for the credit union.”

The Missouri Credit Union Charitable Foundation provided $10,000 to fund the program. The remainder of the initial project is funded by a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation. Missouri is the fourth state to adopt REAL solutions.

“Most credit unions have transitioned from employer-based to community charters, and they did not have a program available that specifically targeted their needs in reaching out to all segments within their community,” said Missouri Credit Union Association President/CEO Rosie Holub. “REAL Solutions is a tailored approach that offers proven programs. By sharing best practices with one another, credit unions can help each other and their communities.”

The Missouri credit unions participating in the REAL Solutions program include the following: Anheuser-Busch Employees’ CU, Central Missouri Community CU, Edison CU, Electro Savings CU, Gateway Metro CU, Health Care Family CU, Mid Missouri CU, Midwest United CU, Neighbors CU, Rolla FCU, St. Louis Community CU, United Consumers CU, United CU and Vantage CU. –