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N.Y. CUs building on 2014 momentum: Mellin

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ALBANY, N.Y. (3/26/15)--New York credit unions ended 2014 with significant increases in memberships, which now top 5.1 million, and loan volume that outpaced the prior year.

"2014 was an encouraging year for the New York credit union movement, and we are continuing to build on that momentum this year," said William J. Mellin, New York Credit Union Association president/CEO.

"Last year, the state's credit unions continued to provide important products, services and loans that directly benefit their members and their communities. As a result, there are now more credit union members than ever in New York, because credit unions put New Yorkers first."

The year-end credit union profile, developed in partnership with CUNA, also reported:
  • Memberships expanded by 2.9%;
  • First mortgages increased by 10.9%, surpassing the national average of 9.1%;
  • New-auto loans surged 17.4%, a significant rise from 7.6% in 2013;
  • Used-auto loans increased by 11.4%, compared with 3.4% the year prior; and
  • Member business loans grew by 13.4% in 2014, topping the national average growth rate of 12.4%.

NWCUA to host town halls at CMN Hospitals

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SEATAC, Wash. (3/26/15)--There's perhaps no better place to inspire people to continue carrying on the credit union philosophy of "people helping people" than at a Children's Miracle Network (CMN) Hospital, an organization to which the credit union movement has financially dedicated itself through Credit Unions for Kids.

That's why the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) has decided to host six town hall meetings this year at each of the six CMN Hospitals found in Washington and Oregon, rather than at traditional credit union branches.

The new setting will allow credit union leaders from the region to see firsthand the difference they make in the lives of children and their families, the NWCUA said (Anthem March 23).

"I'm incredibly excited for this year's town halls," said Troy Stang, NWCUA president/CEO. "These town hall meetings have proven to provide a strong bond throughout the credit union movement of the Northwest, and hosting these events at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals will add an extra layer of meaning and purpose to each of the gatherings."

The NWCUA's town hall meetings provide attendees the chance to network with fellow credit union professionals, gain insight into opportunities developing in the Northwest, and learn more about resources offered by the Northwest Credit Union Foundation, according to the league.

The town hall meeting schedule includes:
  • April 21: Sacred Heart Children's Hospital, Spokane, Wash.;
  • June 11: Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, Medford, Ore.;
  • June 25: Yakima (Wash.) Valley Memorial Hospital;
  • June 30: Seattle Children's Hospital;
  • July 1: Sacred Heart Medical Center, Springfield, Ore.; and
  • Aug. 20: Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Portland, Ore.

CU System briefs (3/26/15)

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  • SALT LAKE CITY (3/26/15)--The Utah Jazz and Mountain America CU, Salt Lake City, wrapped up its $25,000 "Pass It Along" program with the fifth and final donation of $5,000 to Utah Foster Care. During the season, fans nominated local charitable organizations to receive game tickets, on-court recognition at a Jazz game and a visit from the team. This year's other recipients include The Sharing Place, South Davis Community Hospital, Neuroworx and Camp Kostopulos.  "Fan participation and partnerships with like-minded companies such as Mountain America CU allow the Jazz organization to make a greater impact in the community," said Utah Jazz President Randy Rigby ...
  • EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (3/26/15)--Young and Free Royal distributed more than $2,000 through its "Cash Bash" program to Eau Claire, Wis., area collegiate groups. "It's so important to support student organizations on campus because these are the people who are dedicated to changing their communities and their campuses," said Shadoe Settle, Young and Free spokester for Royal CU, Eau Claire, Wis. "These are the kids who are one day going to change our world." The first-place winner, the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Eau Claire Behavioral Applications Regarding Canines internship program, received $1,000. Other winners were UW-Eau Claire Women's Concert Chorale, UW-Stout F.A.B. magazine, UW-Eau Claire Delta Tau Delta and UW-Eau Claire National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Contestants had to submit a video detailing their group's purpose and how they would use the funds ...
  • OSHKOSH, Wis. (3/26/15)--Two Rivers (Wis.) Community CU and Verve, a Credit Union, in Oshkosh, Wis., announced their intention to merge. Two Rivers Community's members approved the proposed merger, which awaits approval from the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions Office of Credit Unions and the National Credit Union Adminstration. "More than just offering enhanced products and services, Verve has the culture--the enthusiasm and drive--that we're looking for," said Two Rivers Community President Fran Honzik. Verve is the new name of CitizensFirst CU, which merged last year with Lakeview CU, Neenah, and Best Advantage CU, Brillion ...

Pew report: Auto-title lending riskier for borrowers

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WASHINGTON (3/26/15)--Car-title loans, where borrowers hand over the title to their vehicles as collateral to secure a cash advance, cause many of the same problems seen with payday loans, The Pew Charitable Trusts has found in a new report.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the product, which more than 2 million Americans use every year, is that the loans can lead to unmanageable balloon payments that can push borrowers deeper into debt.

"We found that auto-title loans share the same harmful characteristics as payday loans," said Nick Bourke, Pew small-dollar loans project director. "They require balloon payments that borrowers can't afford, and most consumers end up having to re-borrow the loans repeatedly."

What's more, a car-title loan can carry even higher costs than payday loans, as a borrower faces the additional risk of losing their car, which for some is their only form of transportation, Bourke added.

The report did note, however, that some credit unions serve members who have damaged credit by offering low-rate installment loans that can be secured with car titles.

"Depository institutions are better positioned to offer lower-cost title loans than are stores that sell only a small variety of financial products to a limited population," the report said.

Still, Pew hopes the findings will encourage the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enact regulations that either prohibit high-interest, small-dollar loans or at least make them more transparent, affordable and safe through key reforms.

Key findings from the report include:
  • Title-loan customers spend roughly $3 billion annually, or $1,200 each, in fees on loans, which average $1,000;
  • Annual interest rates for title loans average roughly 300% APR;
  • The average lump-sum title-loan payment gobbles up 50% of an average borrower's gross monthly income. The average payday loan consumes 36%;
  • Between 6% and 11% of title-loan customers have their car repossessed every year, and one-third of all title-loan borrowers have no other working vehicle to rely on; and
  • Half of consumers report using title loans to pay for regular bills, and more than nine in 10 loans are used for personal reasons.

Tax services from CUs return value to communities

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MADISON, Wis. (3/26/15)--Filing tax returns can be challenging and a little scary. Credit unions, with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, step up to help consumers file their taxes properly and receive the tax credits they've earned.
VITA programs offer free tax-preparation assistance to economically eligible populations as well as elderly, disabled or non-English speaking taxpayers. Certified preparers also help identify eligibility for earned income tax credits (EITC) and navigate new rules under the Affordable Care Act (News Now Jan. 26).
During its five-day VITA program, Firstmark CU helped 163 families prepare and file their 2014 income taxes for an estimated $400,000 in refunds, the San Antonio, Texas, credit union reported.
"We saw a high turnout each day which validates the need for this kind of assistance," said President/CEO Leon Ewing.
By the first part of March, Montana credit unions and Montana Credit Unions for Community Development partners had electronically filed more than 2,120 tax returns at VITA sites. More than a third were filed at credit union-sponsored sites, and the certified volunteers helped Montanans claim more $987,000 in federal refunds, including $313,586 in EITC (President's Report March 6).
In addition to its 12 branch locations, Bethpage (N.Y.) FCU will take its VITA program to local libraries and community centers. Last year the credit union secured more than $700,000 in earned income tax credits for eligible families, according to Rob Suarez, assistant vice president of community development. Bethpage also completed 2,489 VITA tax returns and helped taxpayers claim refunds of more than $2.8 million, a 23% increase from 2013. 
CORE FCU, East Syracuse, N.Y., tapped seven students from East Syracuse-Minoa High School to serve as certified tax preparers. The students work under the supervision of credit union employees and IRS-certified volunteers.
"They pick up tremendous math and financial accounting skills," CORE FCU President/CEO Bill Sweeney told WSYR-TV (March 14). "They also get an opportunity to be community leaders and not only learn from the program, but also give back to the community."

CU Hero: Lewis leads CU staff, community by example

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (3/26/15)--Gail Lewis, director of consumer lending/credit manager at 121 Financial CU, Jacksonville, Fla., learned very early in her long career in financial services the importance of leadership in the workplace.

During a work-study program in high school, she landed a job reconciling business accounts at a bank. Her boss was the one who first imbued this idea in her.

"I had a great supervisor who set many of the standards I hold today--mostly, that a leader's role is to grow and develop people," she told Credit Union Magazine.

Since joining 121 Financial in 1983, Lewis has reinforced her belief in the importance of leadership many times over, including through the development of staff within her department.

As the lead on consumer and indirect lending, Lewis encourages and challenges her staff to grow within their roles at the credit union.

"Many people are satisfied in their positions, but they can't just be content," Lewis told Credit Union Magazine. "They're always learning--whether it's serving new members with different situations, understanding the regulatory environment, or handling changing times or a shifting economy."
Lewis also leads by example, especially in her community.

On her own time, the longtime credit union employee conducts financial education workshops, teaches financial counseling through the Credit Union Education Program and also serves on the education committee for the Northeast Florida Chapter of Credit Unions.

"Credit unions are about the community," she told Credit Union Magazine. "We say that and we back it up. I love that credit unions stand for helping and caring about people."

Lewis is one of three nominees for this year's "CU Hero of the Year" award, presented by Credit Union Magazine. The award recognizes those in the credit union movement who relentlessly promote the credit union philosophy, dedicate themselves to credit union principles, and make a difference in their communities.

CU memberships outpace 2014 population growth in New England

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MARLBOROUGH, Mass. (3/25/15)--The Cooperative Credit Union Association (CCUA) reported this week that each of the three New England states it represents--Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island--experienced membership growth increases between six and 15 times that of their states' population growth rates.

In Massachusetts, for example, credit unions amassed 2.57 million memberships by the end of 2014, posting a 3.3% jump on an annual basis, or six times higher than increases in the state's population ( Daily CU Scan March 24).

New Hampshire's credit unions ended 2014 with 571,000 memberships, a number equal to roughly 43% of the state's population. The state's credit unions posted a 4.7% annual growth rate in 2014, dwarfing a 0.3% population growth.

And in Rhode Island, credit unions posted a 2.8% increase in memberships, the fastest annual jump since 2002 and 14 times higher than the state's population growth rate.

The data comes from the league's year-end 2014 state profiles, which can be found in full on CCUA's website .

Additional numbers from the data:
  • Massachusetts credit unions saw a 9.2% jump in loan growth in 2014, the biggest increase since 2005. Stronger earnings and modest asset growth also helped keep the aggregate net-worth ratio at 10.9%, up only 0.1% from the end of 2013;
  • New Hampshire's credit unions experienced a 12.5% increase in loan growth in 2014, the fastest rate since 2008. Savings balances increased 6.3% for the year, while returns on assets climbed 0.7%, up from 0.59% the prior year; and
  • Rhode Island credit unions recorded a 6.9% increase in loan growth during the year, with new-vehicle lending leading the way with a 7.4% jump in the fourth quarter. Savings also climbed in 2014, rising 3.3% for the year and 0.9% in the fourth quarter.