PEWAUKEE, Wis. (1/28/09)--Representatives from the Wisconsin Credit Union League and a credit union testified Wednesday about the safety and soundness of credit unions at a state legislative committee hearing. They also distributed a new annual report on Wisconsin credit unions. The Senate Committee on Financial Institutions is gathering information to gain a Wisconsin perspective on the condition of the banking and real estate sectors of the economy. Presenting testimony were Joanne Whiting, chief advocacy officer for the league, and Jim Schrimpf, president of Brewery CU, Milwaukee. Whiting's testimony noted that credit unions' first major membership expansion occurred during the Great Depression, "when unemployment stood at 22% and people flocked to credit unions as a source of mutual support. "Today we're seeing renewed interest in credit unions for much the same reason--many financial firms have failed or just disappeared and people facing a tough economy are pulling back, wondering who they can trust. That's where credit unions come in," said Whiting. She noted that credit unions didn't get involved in subprime lending and remain strong, well capitalized and a continued source of affordable loans. In the auto loan arena, premier automakers General Motors and Chrysler Corp. "recognized credit unions recently as our nation's premier auto lenders," Whiting said, referring to credit unions' new "Invest in America" auto loan program. Credit unions have been part of the solution to the ailing housing market, with 62% of credit unions saying they have refinanced other lenders' mortgages to prevent foreclosures and bought the members some time, Whiting said, noting that member deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Administration. Wisconsin credit unions were the first in the country, she said, to spearhead the REAL Solutions program to encourage saving and building wealth, increase financial literacy, build creditworthiness and improve the lives of families and their communities. She outlined a number of REAL Solutions initiatives in the state. The annual report distributed at the hearing is a new report that provides a snapshot of how the state's credit unions delivered value to communities and 2.2 million members in 2008. The report says Wisconsin credit unions saved members $188 million during the 12 months ending in September, largely due to more competitive rates on savings and loans, and lower and fewer fees. To view the testimony or the annual report, use the resource links.