LANSING, Mich. (10/15/10)--The economic crisis has hit Michigan consumers hard, presenting new challenges but also opportunities for credit unions in the state, indicates a 2010 Harris Interactive consumer study commissioned by the Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL). Despite the current economic conditions--job losses, foreclosures and falling home prices--a majority of Michigan consumers describe their personal financial situation as “fair” or “very good.” More credit union members (79%) describe their financial situation as good than bank customers do--67% (Michigan Monitor Oct. 11). Overall, 81% of respondents reported that they pay their bills on time and have no debts in collection. However, 11% of credit union members and 8% of bank customers struggle to pay their bills and are receiving calls from collectors. And 5% of bank customers and 2% of credit union members have considered filing for bankruptcy or have filed already. Although several programs can help, the study shows that, overall, consumers are not knowledgeable about them. This could present opportunities for credit unions to better inform members, MUCL said. For roughly one in three Americans (32%), the key to financial security is having a steady income. This is down from 37% in first quarter 2009, according to a national consumer study done by Market Strategies International. A steady income and the ability to pay bills on time each account for one-third of what makes people feel secure in their financial situation. Also, 11% of credit union members and 8% of bank customers said that adding to their savings each month would contribute to their sense of financial security. And, 8% of bank customers and 7% of credit union members say that ability to pay their mortgage or rent each month would add to their sense of financial security, while 11% in both groups said that nothing contributes to their financial security in the current economy. Little difference exists between bank customers and credit union members when it comes to planning for unexpected financial trouble, the study indicated. Only two in five respondents have a financial emergency plan for unexpected changes to their household income. Only one in four consumers would talk to their lender if their household income changes and they are faced with some financial problems or a foreclosure threat. This implies that few consumers are aware of federal or state programs to help with financing their mortgages. Consumers say they know more about personal finance than they actually do, MCUL said. Almost nine out of 10 credit union members say they are “extremely” or “very” knowledgeable about personal finance, but the self-assessment is not reflective of consumers’ true financial literacy, MCUL said. For instance, when compared with bank customers (58%), more CU members (71%) describe their credit scores as “good” to “excellent,” but this difference is not reflected when people report their actual credit score. Only 37% of credit union members and 34% of bank customers have credit (FICO) scores of 700 or more. While nearly two-thirds of Michigan residents have a mortgage or own a home, only 37% of credit union members, and 33% of bank customers accurately know when a mortgage payment is considered delinquent. Similar numbers of bank customers and credit union members keep track of the money they spend, with 64% of bank customers and 61% of credit union members using a budget. Thirty-eight percent of credit union members and 33% of bank customers say they have an idea of how much they spend, but do not keep track of spending. Only 3% in each group admit that they have no idea of how much they spend and do not keep track of their overall spending. Credit union members are more likely than bank customers to say the safest place to invest money is a savings account (24% vs. 15%, respectively) or certificate of deposits (14% vs. 12%). Twice as many credit union members (6%) are using money market accounts, compared with bank customers (3%). However, more than one-third of consumers overall do not believe there is a safe place to invest money at this time.