James Hunter knows too well how expensive it is to be poor.
It’s what he sees every day as mortgage director and executive director of credit union development for $182 million asset New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union, Metairie, La., and executive director of The Faith Fund, a nonprofit partnership that seeks to provide a financial hand-up to the underserved.
It’s what inspires him to come to work every day and drives his passion of empowering people and setting them on the path to financial security.
“Too many people are too far away from the starting line,” Hunter says. “Payday loans are a big business in Louisiana. Exorbitant fees and interest from payday loans drain more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year. Baton Rouge supports one of the top three payday loan markets in the U.S.”
The Faith Fund was formed to counteract that. It’s a unique cooperative relationship between like-minded businesses that have a mission to teach people to manage their money, escape predatory lending, and achieve financial stability, Hunter says.
“If you pair financial coaching and the right products, you empower people to take control of their present financial situation and inspire them to plan for a successful financial future,” Hunter says.
One of those products is New Orleans Firemen’s affordable housing mortgage program that provides 100% financing and allows members to “turn rent payments into mortgage payments” and build equity.
Other offerings the credit union designed to serve the underserved and underbanked include financial counseling, a payday loan alternative, auto loans, free checking accounts, and educational programs.
Hunter believes it’s essential to meet members where they are. “We are more interested in your ability to repay than in your credit report.”
Hunter hosted a series of webinars to address the financial consequences of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These sessions reached 15,000 people.
New Orleans Firemen’s also offered a bridge loan with no payments for 90 days to assist members with reduced income due to wage cuts or layoffs that resulted from COVID-19.
Hunter wants to make the future brighter for everyone.
“I want to influence change through policy because it’s through policy and laws where systemic change can be truly found,” he says.
“I want to advocate for changes to our nation that not only bridge the financial wealth divide, but create equity that eradicates the inequities that plague our society.”