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.
The strategies vary depending on the credit union and its philosophy of financial education. But one common theme emerges: Every credit union profiled has made an organizational commitment to financial education.
Virginia CU, with $2.3 billion in assets, North Chesterfield, Va., offers frequent financial education seminars for its members and community. Last year, more than 12,000 youth and adults attended the seminars, Glenn Birch, Virginia CU's public and media relations director, told News Now. Through classroom presentations, credit union instructors cover topics such as maintaining a checking account, budgeting, identity theft, credit and online banking.
"Jane Watkins, our president/CEO, believes strongly in financial education and she made this a priority for our credit union," Birch said. "Our financial education director, Cherry Hedges, is a former teacher and trained curriculum writer who coordinates our activities and helped us significantly increase the number of people our programs reach."
Suncoast Schools FCU, Tampa, Fla., offers Mad City Money program from the Credit Union National Association. Designed for teens, Mad City Money is an online program that offers simulated careers, salaries and obligations, and allows participants to determine where their money should go. Mad City Money roughly mirrors the day-to-day financial decisions adults make.
McGraw-Hill FCU, East Windsor, N.J., offers free monthly financial education seminars tailored for local educators. The program is a partnership with the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education and the McGraw-Hill School Education Group.
McGraw-Hill FCU recognized an opportunity in early 2011 when New Jersey began to require state educators to meet to earn a minimum level of professional development credits in order to teach financial curriculum in high schools. Educators had limited resources to receive these credits so the credit union stepped in to help. Seminar topics have included: how a green lifestyle can save money, how to finance a card, investment opportunities for women, and how to build and maintain a credit score.
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."