NEW YORK (2/12/08)--Most credit unions have strong balance sheets and near-record capital levels, which allow them to make any type of loan despite the subprime crisis, Bill Hampel, chief economist for the Credit Union National Association, told Dow Jones Monday. While some credit unions have experienced “collateral damage” due to the subprime turmoil, most are “going to make any loan they possibly can make,” Hampel told the paper (Dow Jones & Company Feb. 11). Executives from three credit unions also were quoted in the article. Because credit unions want to hear the story behind why members have credit problems, credit unions are often more flexible in making loans because they are “story” loans, Steve Renock, executive vice president, Orange County Teachers FCU, Santa Ana, Calif., told the paper. Chris Shockley, executive vice president, Virginia CU, Richmond, Va., told the paper that his credit union tries to help its members before they default on loans. Virginia CU has an in-house collections department to contact borrowers after they’ve fallen behind on a payment or two. HarborOne CU, Brockton, Mass., has converted 15,000 square feet of office space into a “multicultural banking center” that features classrooms and offices for social service agencies to help members and nonmembers alike, according to James Blake, president/CEO of the credit union. By emphasizing education, credit unions help equip consumers to avoid mortgage gimmicks and use mainstream financial products, Blake told the paper. Through the refinancing of existing mortgages and educating consumers who are getting ready to take out mortgages, HarborOne will build trust and hopefully create future members, he added. Because credit unions “offer more personalized service” than banks do, they “can make the difference between members getting approved and refinanced out of a loan,” Allen Fishbein, director of housing and credit policy for the Consumer Federation of America, told the paper.