FARMERS BRANCH, Texas (6/13/08)--Credit unions looking to increase their field of membership, increase member loyalty, enhance their presence in the community or demonstrate their commitment to the credit union mission and cooperative principles should consider Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), according to speakers at a recent conference. IDAs were the topic of a pre-conference workshop at the Fifth Latino Credit Union Conference in Dallas this week. Terry Ratigan, senior consultant wit hteh National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions and Deirdre Silverman, director of community programs with Alternatives FCU in Ithaca, N.Y., presented the session (LoneStar Leaguer June 13). IDAs are a powerful anti-poverty tool. They teach people how to budget, save and build assets. “They are a natural fit for credit unions,” Ratigan said. The accounts are designed to help low-income families accumulate assets. They are set up like a share certificate with limited access. Participants must specify a savings goal, such as saving for a home or secondary education. If participants are successful in meeting their predetermined savings plan, their dollars are matched by how much was predetermined in their plan. IDAs aren’t for everyone--some will drop out, Silverman noted. But “IDAs are problem-solvers,” she said. “They get people into better savings habits. They increase financial stability, teach more productive use of credit and improve communities.” Credit unions can determine how they will participate. They can hold accounts and allow a community partner to manage the accounts, hold and help fund the IDA accounts, or help fund and manage the program themselves. “It’s important to look at an IDA as a tool, not a product,” Ratigan said. “Leveraged effectively, IDAs can empower individuals and change the face of the community.” The conference was organized by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals, and the Texas Credit Union League.