Montana Credit Unions Gain Grants to Provide REAL Solutions

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To help consumers across the state who have been unable to start saving or owning assets, Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) has attracted $65,000 in outside grants that will support credit unions participating in the REAL Solutions program offered by the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF).

REAL Solutions are now being provided by nearly 300 credit unions in 19 states. In most states, credit union leagues are using their own funds and/or state returns from the Community Investment Fund to cover nominal REAL Solutions implementation expenses. Montana is the first to add resources to the program by attracting funding from outside the credit union community.

“We commend this creative funding approach,” said NCUF Executive Director Steve Delfin. “By raising outside grant dollars to implement REAL Solutions, Montana Credit Unions for Community Development will be able to add value, both in terms of financial resources and human resources, for credit unions and consumers.”

In a report to the Montana Credit Union Network Board, MCUCD Executive Director Jeanne Saarinen described the new sources of funds. “I am very appreciative of our funders for this project: the Kellogg Foundation and Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Montana for providing $45,000 to hire staff and enroll in REAL Solutions; and the Montana Homeownership Network (an affiliate of NeighborWorks Great Falls) for providing $20,000 toward a guarantee fund to offset a percentage of the credit union losses associated with offering payday loan alternatives. Without their support, this payday loan alternative project would not be getting off the ground.”

With the new agreement, experts from NCUF and MCUCD will train not-for-profit credit unions to provide payday loan alternatives and other innovative financial services that “low-wealth” families can afford.

MCUCD has hired Robert Coble as programs support coordinator. Coble is completing his year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member with Montana Legal Services Association, where he worked on a consumer law project. “Robert has a wide variety of work experience that makes him an excellent choice for the position,” Saarinen related. “Additionally, he served as a volunteer tax preparer at 1st Liberty Federal Credit Union’s volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) site in Cut Bank this past tax season.”

As a participant in REAL Solutions, Saarinen continued, “we have a field coach coming to Montana three to four days a month for nine months, starting this September, working with MCUCD staff and credit unions on implementing affordable alternatives to payday loans. I’m extremely happy to report that our field coach is Nancy Pierce. In the past year, Nancy has worked with three other REAL Solutions leagues to implement payday loan alternatives with very positive results.”

“We will follow the same format that has worked so well in other states when rolling out REAL Solutions,” affirmed Pierce, former chairman of the Credit Union National Association and now one of six REAL Solutions field coaches for NCUF. “By combining our resources with the leagues, Montana credit unions and their members will benefit from our shared experiences across the country.”

“We are seeing credit unions across the country rescue borrowers who had fallen into the trap of revolving debt at payday lenders they could not pay off,” observed REAL Solutions National Program Director Lois Kitsch. “Credit unions’ lower-cost payday loan alternatives, as well as the other services offered through REAL Solutions, are helping thousands of Americans rebuild their credit and work toward securing a stronger financial future.”

The National Credit Union Foundation took on REAL Solutions as its signature program in December of 2006 and will be working with up to 20 state credit union networks to implement the program this year. Over the next three years, REAL Solutions is projected to help more than 2,000 credit unions in 33 states provide new products and services to attract more than 250,000 low-wealth members.

NCUF is funding REAL Solutions through national returns from the Community Investment Fund (CIF), which won the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Award for Fundraising Excellence. The Community Investment Fund is offered to Montana credit unions through Treasure State Corporate Credit Union in Helena. CIF investments are structured to earn dividends for each credit union while supporting charitable initiatives of NCUF and each state network.
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