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CU halfway to 1M community challenge goal

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TINTON FALLS, N.J. (8/30/12)--United Teletech Financial (UTF) FCU's Million Dollar Community Challenge (MDCC) has surpassed the half-way mark to its $1 million interest savings goal.

The Tinton Falls, N.J.-based credit union hopes to save community members $1 million in interest expense this summer. The program, which runs through Sept. 29, has saved more than $644,000 so far, according to the New Jersey Credit Union League (The Daily Exchange Aug. 29).

Since the inaugural MDCC in 2011, community members have saved more than $2.5 million in interest expense. This year, more than 125 members participated in the challenge.

The program allows members to save in two ways:  the TimeShifter Mortgage loan and the Cut The Card personal loan. The TimeShifter mortgage can reduce mortgage terms, potentially saving the consumer thousands in interest expense. The Cut the Card loan helps individuals consolidate personal or credit card debt at a lower interest rate than offered by many card companies. Its fixed-rate payment plan lowers interest while increasing cash flow.

Also, once the $1 million milestone is reached, UTF will made donations to four local charities. Donations will be based on the percentage of total interest saved, and members can select which charity receives the donation once the loan is closed. The public also can vote for a People's Choice winner online at JerseySaves.org.  The charity receiving the most votes will receive an additional $500 donation.

Isaac stalls while CUs wait it out

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MADISON, Wis. (8/30/12)--The Gulf Coast states soaked Tuesday night and most of Wednesday by Hurricane Isaac weren't reporting any damages yet Tuesday afternoon. Isaac was still stalled over Louisiana and Mississippi and many credit unions in the area were closed or evacuated.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) activated its disaster recovery policy Wednesday. (See related story, "Disaster relief activated by NCUA in Isaac's wake," in today's News Now.)  And about 24 hours after it was given a Category 1 Hurricane status, Isaac was reduced to a Tropical Storm.

Credit unions had not reported losses yet and are expected to beginning today. "We do not have any reported losses as of this time," said Phil Tschudy, media relations manager for CUNA Mutual Group, late Wednesday afternoon. "This is not uncommon since Isaac is still over southern Louisiana and most of the area is still under evacuation orders. If there are damages, we'll likely start hearing about them Thursday, which is when our Property and Casualty Claims Team will be calling Louisiana credit unions.  We have adjusters ready to make site inspections in the New Orleans area once authorities allow us to do so.

Tschudy said CUNA Mutual has begun contacting credit unions in Mississippi. "We continue to track Isaac as it moves into upper Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, and we will be contacting credit unions in these areas as needed."

CUNA Mutual would like to hear from credit unions "concerning any problems they are encountering, regardless how small, and about problems other credit unions in their area may be having. Credit unions should call our toll-free emergency number (800-637-2676), which is answered live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

At mid-day Wednesday, Louisiana residents were still hunkered down in the southeastern part of the state, where the Louisiana Credit Union League reported that the storm was stalled.  Damage reports from credit unions were unlikely since many in the area were closed for the storm.

"It's too early to tell as the storm appears to be stalling over the southeastern part of our state," said Lacey Hyer, Louisiana league vice president of communications and public relations, in an e-mail to News Now Wednesday afternoon. "There have been many reports of power outages and potential flooding in some areas, but [we're] not sure just yet. The hurricane is still making its way through," she said. 

The league sent out its newsletter, eNews, Wednesday afternoon with an update. The league, which is in the evacuated area, was still closed but it provided resources for credit unions such as disaster preparedness information and league contacts.  NCUA had also asked that affected credit unions contact NCUA's regional office with status updates at 512-342-5600, according to the newsletter.

The League of Southeastern Credit Unions posted names of several credit unions, mostly in Alabama, that remained closed, and had information about disaster preparation and contacts on its website.

The league also posted a list of 17 ways credit unions can help their members through the aftermath of the hurricane.  Some of the suggestions include establishing an emergency fund, waiving a range of fees, offering personal loans, modifying mortgages with a 90-day deferral plan, rewriting loans to spread the waiver period over the life of the loan, waiving ATM fees and increasing the daily ATM limit, setting up a desk in the credit union lobby to provide insurance claim forms, information about hurricane relief, set up mobile ATMs at closed branches, offering emergency bridge loans to small businesses, and more.

In Mississippi, eight credit unions on the Gulf Coast closed at noon on Tuesday, would remain closed through Wednesday, and were expected to reopen today, said Charles Elliott, president/CEO of the Mississippi Credit Union Association.

Highway 90, a major thoroughfare on the Gulf Coast, was closed from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to the Bay St. Louis Bridge, a stretch of about 25 miles, and was not expected to re-open until late Friday--a development that could affect the reopening of credit unions, Elliott told News Now.

As of 1 p.m.  ET Thursday, no credit unions in Mississippi had reported damages. Elliott said he was not expecting heavy damages, if any, given Isaac's 10- to 11-foot storm surge. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina's storm surge in 2005 was 34 feet, Elliott said.

The Gulf Port area is expecting heavy rains, which could cause some damage, Elliott said.

He anticipated most Gulf Port credit unions would re-open today.

As Hurricane Isaac worked its way up to the Gulf Coast this week, CU*South, a credit union service organization in Mobile, Ala., called on its partners in the Midwest and Northwest for backup support. The cuasterisk.com network partners in Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington worked jointly to ensure CU*South could continue to service its credit union clients throughout the eastern U.S.

The client service teams at CU*Answers and CU*NorthWest regularly swap phone coverage for staff meetings or to beef up staffing levels, so providing CU*South clients with seamless customer service required only a few simple phone adjustments. 

As further preparation, rollover and connectivity tests were performed during the weekend prior to the storm to ensure that member data for CU*South's 13 client credit unions would be available, accessible and operational if the storm took a turn and knocked the Mobile site out of commission. Testing confirmed the preparations were complete. CU*NorthWest, which has been sharing operations CU*South counterpart for more than a month, was prepared to take over on a moment's notice if needed.

"I've been supporting credit unions on the Gulf Coast since 1983, and have dealt with direct strikes or near misses from at least 15 hurricanes," said Leo Vaulin, CEO of CU*South.  "Never before have I felt so well-protected by the combination of robust planning and partnership support through our network."

IFox BizI IBankrateI IU.S. NewsI CUs are a choice

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WASHINGTON (8/30/12)--National media continue to point out credit unions as a viable choice for consumers, especially those tired of bank fees. The latest include U.S. News & World Report, Fox Business.com, and Bankrate.com.

Back to school season and banking alternatives for students was the topic of a blog by Joseph Audette, NerdWallet vice president of education and financial literacy, in the U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28).

"One aspect of returning to school that should not be costly is your banking. Too often, students pick the large nationwide banks for their student checking when better options exist right on campus in the form of university credit unions," Audette wrote.

"Overall, university credit unions charge less for out-of-network ATM transactions and many include several free transactions a month," he said. "By researching on-campus banking options at more than 80 major universities, NerdWallet found that 57% of credit unions surveyed offered at least one free out-of-network transaction per month, compared to only 18% of banks."

He also pointed out that students have an easier time accessing money from university credit unions. The NerdWallet study "found that 72% of university credit unions had branches on campus, while only 54% of banks" did so. Also, credit unions' ATM networks "offer surcharge-free ATM networks that dwarf that of individual banks," Audette wrote.

Some credit unions also offer bonus perks, such as the three cent reward on every debit purchase up to a maximum of $250 per year, offered by Metro CU in Boston, the article said.

Another article, "Six Cutting-Edge Bank Alternatives," which appeared first in Bankrate.com and then in FoxBusiness.com (Aug. 29), names credit unions as one of six alternatives to its question, "Can you do better than a bank?"

"By joining company credit unions, you can save money on banking fees. They offer core services such as savings accounts, auto loans and checking accounts. And some credit unions are branching out to community members to become an alternative to banks," said the article, which said that San Jose, Calif.-based Alliance CU serves more than 400 small employee groups.

Credit Union National Association spokesman Pat Keefe also provided information on the valuable benefits that come with membership.  Use the link for the full article.

Iowa foundation launches Morrow memorial scholarship

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DES MOINES, Iowa (8/30/12)--The Iowa Credit Union Foundation (ICUF)'s annual "Family Involvement Board (FIB) Scholarship" has been renamed the "Warren A. Morrow Memorial Scholarship" in celebration of Morrow's life and achievements in Hispanic culture and the credit union industry.

Morrow was CEO of Coopera Consulting until his death earlier this year.

"Warren dedicated his life and career to helping the underserved, so this name change is extremely fitting," said Marybeth Foster, ICUF executive director. "He valued education and wanted people to have opportunities. He also strongly believed in the credit union movement as the avenue for financial advancement for many."

The scholarship provides $5,750 in awards to six Iowa students through two scholarship programs.

The first is a scholarship for high school seniors graduating in 2013. The high school scholarship competition will award $3,750. The first place prize is $1,500, second place is $1,000, third place is $750, and fourth place is $500.

The second program is a post-high school scholarship, open to any person entering or attending an accredited undergraduate, graduate or vocational program. Two $1,000 scholarships will be awarded in this category.

Applicants must complete the entry form found on foundation's website and are required to answer one question in 500 words or less. This year's essay question is:

"Given the fragile state of our national economy, with record unemployment and deficits, describe how having an emergency savings account is more crucial than ever. How might someone utilize their credit union to focus on saving?"

Judges will base their scores for the essay on originality, clarity, meaningful content, accurate presentation of facts, adherence to contest rules, spelling, grammar and punctuation. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1. Winners will be notified via mail by April.

Pa. foundation approves two fin-lit grants

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (8/30/12)--The Pennsylvania Credit Union Foundation Board recently approved two $8,000 grants to fund financial literacy efforts throughout the state.

A grant to the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) is a cooperative initiative between the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (PCUA) and the foundation to offer four town hall meetings in 2012 and 2013 on tax preparation, financial management, business start-ups and retirement issues (Life is a Highway Aug. 27).

Through another grant to Voz Latina Central magazine, the PCUA will offer 10 financial literacy "advertorials" in English and Spanish to nearly 130,000 Hispanic readers in 10 central Pennsylvania counties.

Foundation Chairman Ray Brunner praised the board of directors for "expanding credit union financial literacy initiatives from local communities to those which encompass the entire state."

Texas fin-ed initiative expands with NCUF grant

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MADISON, Wis. (8/30/12)--A statewide initiative from the Texas Credit Union Foundation (TCUF) is inspiring Texans to work together to improve the financial well-being of citizens in their communities, from preschool to adulthood.

Foundation FOCUS, a financial education initiative from the Texas Credit Union Foundation, was expanded through a National Credit Union Foundation Financial Education Grant. Here, a group presents techniques and best practices for teaching financial education in schools at the 2012 Foundation FOCUS in-person meeting in February in Dallas. (Photo provided by the National Credit Union Foundation)
The collaborative financial literacy initiative, called Foundation FOCUS, was expanded with the help of a National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) Financial Education Grant.

"Texas consistently has had one of the lowest average credit scores of any state in the country," said Courtney Moran, TCUF executive director. Texas credit unions and the Texas foundation "see the need and are taking great strides in bringing financial awareness to credit union members and classrooms throughout the state."

The Foundation FOCUS initiative includes training events such as train-the-trainer workshops for Texas credit union staff and a network of professionals to teach and discuss financial literacy concepts to consumers of all ages.

TCUF set a goal of establishing FOCUS as the premier program promoting financial education in Texas by increasing the number of Foundation FOCUS Network members and financial education training sessions throughout the state. The foundation also sought to expand the initiative to include adult financial education in addition to youth.

FOCUS, which was established in 2011, has its roots in TCUF's "Project NEFE," which began in 2007 in response to revised National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) High School Financial Planning Program (HSFPP) materials. Project NEFE was a statewide collaborative led by TCUF to bring the accredited HSFPP, along with comprehensive training, to schools across Texas free of charge.

The centerpiece of the initiative is the Foundation FOCUS Network, which is built around credit union professionals, Texas AgriLife Extension agents, educators, state agency representatives, Junior Achievement volunteers and staff, community non-profit organizations, and others interested in financial education. Each member assists with the promotion and delivery of curricula from preschool to retirement through internal and external marketing, training other individuals, and/or hands-on classroom or individual instruction.

The Foundation FOCUS Network includes 447 members--an increase of over 100 members in the previous year.

Over the past year, TCUF and the network have held 14 NEFE Train-the-Trainer workshops, attended by 325 attendees from 51 credit unions, 53 schools and districts, and 59 community organizations. The network also partnered with the Arkansas Credit Union League to conduct a financial education workshop for Arkansas credit unions and teachers.

NCUF grants are made possible by supporters of the foundation and the Community Investment Fund, an award-winning system of investments that help credit unions earn dividends while donating to national and state community development programs.