PEWAUKEE, Wis. (1/20/10)--Wisconsin credit unions, owned by 2.2 million member-owners, saved state residents almost $200 million on a full range of financial services last year, according to the 2009 Annual Report for Wisconsin Credit Unions from the Wisconsin Credit Union League. Membership in credit unions in the state also grew by 2.39% in the 12 months ending in September 2009--an increase that’s more than double the rate of state population growth and nearly double the average rate of membership growth over the past decade, the league added. While for-profit banks’ asset and loan levels declined during the year, according to the Credit Union National Association, not-for-profit credit unions saw growth in both those areas, 9.26% and 5.3% respectively. That came as no surprise to league President/CEO Brett Thompson, who said that credit unions topped consumer trust surveys in 2009 despite rampant cynicism about the financial industry. Thompson attributes that to credit unions’ member-ownership structure with no outside investors. “Credit unions stepped up to help struggling consumers in ways other lenders wouldn’t, precisely because their role is to help people, not chase profits,” he said in the report. “Members flocked to credit unions to refinance high-cost mortgages obtained elsewhere, consolidate debt, sort out budget issues or seek help when faced with a job loss or health problem,” said League Board Chair Kevin Hauser, CEO of Westby (Wis.) Co-op CU, in the report. He added that small business owners increasingly turned to credit unions for loans as other lenders cut back. “Many [entrepreneurs] had either been turned away by for-profit banks or--despite having significant equity, assets and stellar credit histories--had bank lines of credit inexplicably withdrawn, threatening job losses and even the viability of otherwise sound enterprises,” Hauser said. The annual report details successes of credit unions’ REAL Solutions initiative, which emphasizes the delivery of services to members and communities without regard for profit. Highlights included that Wisconsin credit unions:
* Offer better deals on basic financial services. A chart in the report details the almost $200 million in annual savings. * Offer small loans at lower rates--a preferred alternative to payday lenders. * Provide business loans that for-profit lenders deem “too small” or too unprofitable. The average credit union business loan in Wisconsin is just under $140,000. Credit unions’ losses are one-seventh that of Wisconsin banks’ business loans. * Make available safe, affordable mortgages. Credit unions have refinanced other lenders’ mortgages to prevent foreclosures. They’ve also set aside $43.8 million for Home Loan Relief Program (HLPR) loans. Credit unions also outperform other lenders in mortgages to low-income and minority borrowers. In 2008--the latest year for data--credit unions approved 71.8% of mortgage requests from low-income borrowers--compared to other lenders’ 53.5%--and 73.9% of mortgage requests for minority borrowers--compared to other lenders’ 46.2%. * Conduct outreach to new Americans through services such as translations, lower-cost wire transfers and participation in community events. * Provide free financial education and counseling through workshops by providing teaching materials and teachers’ training, and by investing in n 85 in-school credit union branches, run by students. Students have saved more than $1.6 million in their school branch accounts. * Offer community support and outreach. Credit unions save Wisconsin tax filers $16 million annually with free tax preparation and filing assistance. They partner with counties to offer low-interest loans that help single parents obtain cars or childcare so they can access or maintain employment. They encourage members to use EdVest--the state’s 529 college savings plan--to save for future educational needs. And they also participate in teaching Wisconsin citizens money matters as part of Money Smart Week Wisconsin.
The 2009 report also noted that Wisconsin credit unions won their third Governor’s Financial Literacy Award in four years. For the full report, use the resource link.