NerdWallet’s Top 10 Community-Focused Credit Unions of 2011
NerdWallet loves credit unions. No matter which community they serve, these not-for-profit financial institutions work hard to promote their members’ well-being. However, some of them take the spirit of community support to new heights by reaching out to underserved communities, schools and local non-profits. To celebrate the accomplishments of community-focused credit unions nationwide, we wanted to recognize those that have gone above and beyond to create a better financial future for Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
Some of these credit unions are community development credit unions that serve low-income and rural communities, while others have an impressive number of financial education classes, grants and scholarships, unique loan products, or other community outreach efforts. If you don’t live within a credit union’s area of membership, you may still be able to invest in their projects or make a donation. If you’re looking to take out a loan, or ditch your bank, consider these credit unions first. Your interest payments will fund community development, not pad shareholders’ pockets.
Best Business Support: Alternatives Federal Credit Union (Ithaca, NY)
Overview: Alternatives Federal Credit Union (AFCU) supports their business loan clients by providing them a variety of free services, including advertising, counseling, networking opportunities, and financial management classes through their Business CENTS program. “Non-traditional” businesses, like non-profits, start-ups and co-ops, are especially welcome to use their services. AFCU looks out for employees as well. Every other year, they conduct a living wage study to determine an appropriate hourly wage for their area’s cost of living. Although there’s no legal precedent, 70 local companies, including them, have voluntarily raised their minimum wage because of this study.
About AFCU: AFCU provides economic opportunities for underserved communities and local businesses in Ithaca, Tompkins County and adjacent counties. Loans and checking are only available regionally, but anyone can become a member and open a savings account or CD.
Most Inclusive: Cooperative Federal Credit Union (Syracuse, NY)
Overview: Cooperative Federal Credit Union (CFCU) is committed to social justice. They offer special term loans just for women, minorities, cooperatives and non-profits. They also make extra effort to welcome their entire community, with no exceptions. Everyone in their area is encouraged to join, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, lifestyle or work status. They are proud of the women on their management team, and they were one of the first financial institutions in New York to cut ties with pro-Apartheid businesses in South Africa.
About CFCU: CFCU works to promote diversity and local business development. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in the city of Syracuse. Family of eligible members and affiliates of select organizations may also join.
Best Community Infrastructure Support: Hope Credit Union (Jackson, MS)
Overview: Hope Credit Union (HCU) is thoroughly committed to helping small, local businesses succeed in impoverished areas of the South. In addition to lending, they’ll help their clients find other financial resources to keep their businesses thriving. They especially like businesses that contribute to local childcare, health care and infrastructure development. HCU’s other community support initiatives include an economic literacy program for high school students and free financial counseling for hurricane victims.
About HCU: Sponsored by the non-profit Hope Enterprise Corporation, HCU serves economically distressed areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Membership is open to anyone who pays the $10 fee. $5 is donated to the Hope Enterprise Corporation. They also accept tax-deductible donations.
Best Microloan Program: ASI Federal Credit Union (Harahan, LA)
Overview: ASI Federal Credit Union (ASIFCU) helps people borrow money for transportation, home ownership, business and education with loans of all sizes. In August 2011, they began offering microloans in partnership with Kiva, a nonprofit that connects individual investors with microfinance institutions all over the world. Partnership with this global organization gives them added financial security and the ability to make small loans that don’t affect their lending cap. In October 2011, ASIFCU also received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Treasury’s Healthy Food Finance Initiative to help entrepreneurs borrow money for grocery and restaurant businesses in New Orleans “food deserts” (places where people don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy food).
About ASIFCU: ASIFCU works to empower low-income families, minorities and women in the Greater New Orleans area through lending and advocacy. Membership is open to people who live, work, worship or attend school in Orleans Parish and surrounding areas (see website for details). Select Employee Groups and family of eligible members also qualify for membership.
Best Grassroots Success Story: Latino Community Credit Union (Durham, NC)
Overview: Latino Community Credit Union (LCCU) was created by a grassroots community effort in response to a wave of robberies and muggings of Latino immigrants in Durham. The goal was to provide this disproportionately unbanked population with a safe place to put their money. Many unbanked immigrants avoid banks due to the language barrier, but LCCU offers all their services, in-office and online, in both English and Spanish. All of their community outreach efforts are bilingual too, including free credit counseling and their financial education program, Building a Better Future. This credit union is considered a national model for similar organizations looking to serve immigrant communities.
About LCCU: LCCU serves immigrant populations, especially Latinos, in North Carolina. Anyone can become a member with a minimum deposit of $10 to open a savings account, and a tax-deductible $20 membership fee to the Latino Community Development Center.
Best Financial Counseling Services: Family Trust Credit Union (Rock Hill, SC)
Overview: Family Trust Credit Union (FTCU) has their own, in-house financial counselor to provide members with free, customizable financial counseling. Their multi-step program encourages members to develop good money management habits, such as building a household budget, getting out of debt, understanding bankruptcy, and building their savings. All sessions begin with an appointment to determine the member’s unique needs. Couples are required to attend sessions together to make sure both partners have an equal say in financial decisions.
About FTCU: FTCU works to promotes financial literacy for local businesses, children and adults. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in York County.
Best Loan Assistance Program: Alliant Credit Union (Chicago, IL)
Overview: Alliant Credit Union (ACU)’s member loan modification programs exemplify the human-focused, forgiving nature of credit unions. They’re willing to work with members and do what they can to help them modify their loan payments under special circumstances. If a member experiences an involuntary reduction in pay or involuntary unemployment, they may be able to reduce their consumer loan payments by up to 30%. In the event of a natural disaster, members in affected areas can qualify for short term payment deferral or apply for an unsecured loan at favorable rates. Additionally, members who are struggling financially and having a hard time making their mortgage payments are given consideration for a reduced payment based on their individual circumstances.
About ACU: ACU is committed to member service and advocacy. Anyone can become a member with a $10 donation to Foster Care for Success, a national advocacy group and college fund for foster youth. Select employee groups and residents of Chicago-area communities qualify for membership automatically.
Most Innovative Branch: Self-Help Credit Unions (CA and NC)
Overview: The Self-Help Credit Unions (SHCU), run by the nonprofit Center for Community Self Help, promote economic opportunity for all people, especially people of color, women, rural residents and low-income families and communities. In 2010, they opened their very first “micro-branch” in East San Jose, California, to better serve the area’s predominantly low-income, Latino immigrant population. This small branch is specially designed appeal to walk-in customers who are used to check cashing companies, and provides all of the same services. However, the branch also provides credit union services, and encourages customers to transition to full-service banking.
About SHCU: SHCU operates two networks of federally insured credit unions with multiple locations in California and North Carolina. Anyone can join with a $25 membership fee. $20 of the fee goes directly to the Center for Community Self-Help.
Best Financial Literacy Library: Generations Federal Credit Union (San Antonio, TX)
Overview: Generations Federal Credit Union (GFCU) has an impressive and easy-to-navigate online financial literacy database for adults and students. You’ll find articles and links for every topic, everything from basic financial education and retirement planning to employee wellness and green banking. GFCU has taken the time to create their own materials, and they also link to reputable third-party websites. We especially like their series of calculators. These can help you determine the costs associated with loans, college, debt repayment, retirement and more. GFCU also has a special student blog, and an interactive online course in money management called Financial Literacy 101.
About GFCU: GFCU reaches out to underserved and unbanked communities in the San Antonio area. Membership is open to people who work, worship, volunteer or attend school in Bexar County.
Best Grant Program: Freedom First Credit Union (Salem, VA)
Overview: Freedom First Credit Union (FFCU)’s community investment strategy doesn’t stop at lending; they give annual grants of up to $5,000 per organization. They accept applications from local nonprofits focused on promoting poverty reduction, affordable housing, financial education, health and human services, and arts and culture. FFCU gave a grand total of $18,050 to six organizations in 2011. Recipients included their local Girl Scout council, Roanoke Community Garden Association, which grows fresh vegetables for homeless shelters, and Katie’s Place Farm, a permanent home for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
About FFCU: Freedom First Credit Union is a certified Community Development Financial Institution committed to serving low-income individuals and communities. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Roanoke, Botetourt or Montgomery counties in Virginia.
Do you know another fantastic community-focused credit union? Tell us about them!