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NCUF grantee equips Montana CDCUs with counseling expertise
HELENA, Mont. (1/17/12)--Credit unions in Montana have embarked on a new program that will give their members access to certified financial counselors and financial coaches

With the help of a financial education grant from the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) and a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) has helped establish a program offering Montana credit unions an affordable avenue to train one or more staff members as financial counselors and/or coaches. In the past seven months, professionals from 14 of Montana's 57 credit unions completed training.

Montana's first Credit Union Financial Counseling Certification Program class poses alongside instructor and REAL Solutions Coach Mark Lynch (far right). (Photo provided by the National Credit Union Foundation)
"We believe [the program] will help credit unions make an incredible difference in their members' lives," said Karen Smith, MCUCD director of outreach services. "Knowing what makes good financial sense is the first step, but the next step is applying that knowledge-- discovering and making the actual changes you need in your life. Now, imagine being able to get both at your local credit union. That's what this program is going to make possible in Montana."

The program makes it possible for Montana's credit unions to offer low‐income individuals in rural areas the same kind of financial education services more widely available in non‐rural areas.

The program also builds on the asset-building and financial education work that many Montana credit unions are, with the help of MCUCD, already engaged in. Several program participants come from credit unions involved with MCUCD's programs, which offer free tax services, matched savings accounts, consumer resource centers and payday loan alternatives.

Combining the lower cost and convenience of the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) self-study Credit Union Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP) enhanced with webinars and local in-person training and networking, the training enables credit union staff to become more confident in helping members build stronger financial futures.

Once they successfully complete the FiCEP training, participants earn the Credit Union Certified Financial Counselor (CCUFC) designation. The enhanced FiCEP program is a result of a partnership between NCUF's REAL Solutions program, CUNA's Center for Professional Development (CUNA CPD), the Montana Credit Union Network and their member credit unions.

In late 2011, MCUCD coordinated a financial coach training program through the New Mexico Project for Financial Literacy (NMPFL). Coaching is goal-oriented: it empowers clients to achieve their objectives and helps them to navigate life transitions. To provide for the long-term sustainability of financial coaching in Montana, staff from MCUCD and partner organizations received instruction from the NMPFL, enabling them to serve as in-state trainers of financial coaches.

As a result, after the initial training from NMPFL, MCUCD will be able to train additional financial coaches without requiring outside assistance. MCUCD's intent is to provide several financial coach trainings across the state in 2012.

NCUF grants are made possible by supporters of the foundation and the Community Investment Fund, a system of investments that help credit unions earn dividends while donating to national and state community development programs.NCUF grantee equips Montana CDCUs with counseling expertise.
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