MADISON, Wis. (4/1/13)--While Financial Literacy Month provides an opportunity for credit unions to highlight their financial education efforts, many credit unions are dedicated to helping their members achieve financial fitness 12 months a year.
Since 2009 the Credit Union League of Connecticut has worked with state credit unions to host Financial Reality Fairs. The league began the Reality Fair initiative through the National Credit Union Foundation's REAL Solutions program.
In the Reality Fair concept, students experience financial challenges similar to what they will face when they start life on their own. Students identify their career choice and starting salaries, then complete a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing and food. Expenditures such as entertainment and travel are factored in as well.
In 2012, the Connecticut league reached its 10,000th student through Reality Fairs.
The Reality Fairs have benefits beyond financial literacy, said Barbara Bass, vice president of education and human resource development for the league. "It raises the level of knowledge of credit unions in the state and creates a venue for credit unions to work cooperatively," Bass said.
Community Financial CU, Plymouth, Mich., offers financial literacy in its communities and local school districts through student-run branches. The credit union currently operates 37 student-run branches. It also reached 16,000 students through classroom presentations in 2012.
"We have a community charter, and our board is committed to supporting the families in our communities," said Natalie McLaughlin, senior education partnership coordinator at $511 million asset Community Financial CU. "Our board decided this was the best way to reach the most kids and prepare them to handle their money in a responsible manner."
A focal point of Centennial, Colo.-based Arapahoe CU's financial education program is classroom presentations. In 2012, the credit union made more than 200 presentations, reaching roughly 8,000 students. The presentations cover topics like checking account management, budgeting, identity theft, credit and online banking.
The presentations have an impact on students, Julie McLean, director of financial education at Arapahoe told News Now. "I recently made a presentation in one of our underserved areas," McLean said. "Most of the kids were using payday lending services. We signed a lot of those kids up to be credit unions members. That's the kind of effect these programs can have."