By Ken King, former executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service and Family Service Association of Sheboygan, Wis.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, chances are more members are going to seek out your credit union for financial advice. Developing talking points can prepare you for when these interactions with members happen. Two major topics you’ll want to address include emergency savings and Economic Impact Payments.
As Americans continue to receive their Economic Impact Payments, many are asking themselves the same question they do when they get their yearly tax refund: “What should I do with my refund (or stimulus check)?” Here are some questions to help members decide what to do with this extra check.
It may be hard for members to open up about their situation as many feel shame about their situation. You may want to emphasize that many are using their Economic Impact Payments to cover essentials during this challenging time.
If the member is unemployed, they can contact their creditors, including credit card companies, to see if they have any hardship plans available. Some creditors may be able to defer a payment or drop the interest for six months or up to a year.
If the member is not living paycheck to paycheck, it’s wise to encourage them to save their stimulus payment because no one knows how long the economy will be in a downturn.
If the member answered no to either of these two questions, then
you can counsel them to consider putting part or all of their economic impact payment into creating or boosting their emergency fund. Conventional financial advice encourages people to save enough money in their emergency fund to cover 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses.
During an economic downturn, encouraging members to reassess their financial priorities and cut down on discretionary spending to bolster their emergency savings is always prudent advice.
Members can consider looking at bills, including utilities, cell phone, internet and cable. Sometimes bills can be reduced under hardship payment plans or better structured with a different due date to help members make the payments on time. Making consistent payments on time can help members better budget and protect their credit. Shopping competitors can also help members reduce expenses. For example, streaming services like YouTube TV instead of cable TV can drastically reduce discretionary spending. Even reviewing their current cell phone plan with a new advertised plan can help members save while getting more for their money.
While these questions may seem simple to you, many people feel shame about their money situations. That's where a program like CUNA Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP) can be invaluable.
The program provides the financial education credit union staff can use to counsel members and helps develop empathy skills, the kind of skills that show you care, build rapport and make it easier for members to open up.
By enrolling in FiCEP, you're on the path to building your financial knowledge and empathy skills so you can discuss those tough money issues with members.
Learn more at cuna.org/ficep.