MADISON, Wis. (10/17/13)--If you know only one thing about Helen Estes, it will tell you a lot.
Estes, loan officer at Old Dominion University CU in Norfolk, Va., detests credit scores. "I don't believe in them," she said. "They don't tell the story you need to hear. If you're going to lend money to somebody questionable, why charge an outrageous rate just to foreclose on them a year earlier?"
Credit Union Magazine is celebrating the credit union movement's rock stars--those ordinary people who manage to pull off the extraordinary--in honor of International Credit Union Day today, which is Thursday.
This is the second of five credit union rock stars News Now will highlight this week.
Estes' lending decisions run the gamut, from $100 consumer loans to $1 million mortgages. She recently helped an overseas professor who had a $450,000 down payment on a $1 million mortgage but couldn't get a secondary market-approved loan because he didn't have a credit score.
"I gave him the loan," she said, adding that everyone involved agreed the member was a good credit risk.
As a one-woman loan department, Helen is in a unique position to bend the rules to everybody's benefit. "Old Dominion accepts that I've occasionally made a wrong call, but they support my approach," she said.
Her openness to borrowers' stories doesn't mean she never says no. "The first time I had to say no, I was scared," she said. "It was difficult. I had to explain our policy and why this loan wouldn't work. Many times when I say no it's from a gut feeling."
She can be strict. "Sometimes I'll spend hours with a member, methodically contacting and paying off creditors," she said. "When we're finished, I say, 'This is the only time I'll do this for you. If you go back to these lenders again, where will you get the money to pay them off?'"
Helen meets with almost all applicants face to face. "They have to sit down and talk to me," she said. "I know the people I lend to and I know their stories."
If her answer is "no," she'll work with the member and explain the steps needed to make improvements before the credit union can offer services. "Sometimes they cry, and sometimes I cry right with them."
Honoring credit union rock stars is just one way credit unions and more than 196 million credit union members in 100 countries are preparing to "unite for good" with activities to today celebrate the credit union difference and demonstrate the value of credit unions.
This year's ICU Day theme, "Credit Unions Unite for Good," builds on the Credit Union National Association's Unite for Good campaign, which has rallied credit unions to work to remove barriers, create awareness of the good credit unions do for members and their communities, and foster service excellence to encourage Americans to choose credit unions as their best financial partner.