Everyone wants to be a good neighbor. To do so, you might keep the front yard tidy, pack away the Christmas decorations (before February!), and wave to other residents as they drive by in the morning. How you spend your dollars can also have an effect on the local community — Eating breakfast at the local diner, choosing artisan breads from the bakery down the street and purchasing raw honey from a local farm are behaviors that are not only trendy, but sustainable. Did you know you can have a similar impact when choosing a financial institution? Your local credit union is another reflection of “Main Street,” both in how they operate their institutions and their outward efforts to give back in the communities they serve.
Many people do not realize that on the operations side, a credit union is a not-for-profit institution. Think of a credit union as a financial co-op where profits are returned to the members in the form of low or no fee services, higher interest rates on savings and lower loan rates. Many credit unions also offer financial literacy programs and financial planning services at no charge to their members. All of a credit union’s members benefit from its success.
Small business advocates
Like other banking institutions, credit unions take deposits from members and then utilize that money for loans to generate income from borrower interest. The difference with a credit union is that loans stay local and within the membership, so capital is invested back into the community to support home loans, car loans, home equity loans and business loans, to name a few.
Nationally, credit unions loaned $11.4B to member businesses in the first half of 2016. Add in the fact that small businesses account for 66 percent of all new jobs and are responsible for 54 percent of all U.S. sales, and it becomes clear just how important credit unions are in supporting the local economy. Montana’s Credit Union alone employs over 1,200 people.
When you choose to use a credit union for your financial services, your dollars are invested back into your community in the form of small business loans and the support of “Main Street” not “Wall Street.”
Most credit unions embrace community involvement efforts as part of their cooperative philosophy. Montana’s credit unions are a great example.
Just this month, 100 credit union professionals from around Montana gathered for a CU Family Reunion and Fall Forum where they collected 327 pounds of food for the Flathead Food Bank and raised $10,940 for their CU4Kids initiative, which collects funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) across the country. The effort was coordinated by Montana’s Young Credit Union Professionals, a group that offers opportunities for young people to network and engage with each other and the community through the credit union industry. They organized a rousing Cornhole Tournament that collected $5,470 from participants and credit unions, qualifying it for a $5,470 match from CO-OP Financial Services. All of the money raised through CU4Kids in Montana goes to support Shodair Hospital.
Increasing financial literacy
Managing your finances is important at any age, but how do we get that message across to teenagers when they are just beginning to generate income? Teaching good spending habits early is a fruitful life skill, and Montana’s Credit Unions support parents in their efforts by hosting Financial Reality Fairs at various schools around the state. At these fairs, students are given a hypothetical life scenario, where they choose a job and are given various expenses like a spouse, children, a house and a vehicle. The students must then work out how to manage their expenses within the designated salary from their career of choice. Many of them come away from the fairs with a new perspective on life’s expenses and managing a household budget.
Everyone can get involved
The best way to get involved with the community activities we’ve talked about here is by becoming a member at a credit union yourself. You can learn more about credit unions, the services they offer and how you can join at www.mcun.coop.
There’s also an easy way you can make a difference right now, by doing something you already enjoy. We all love the convenience of shopping online with Amazon, so why not impact your community at the same time by using AmazonSmile. Montana’s Credit Union’s initiatives like Financial Reality Fairs are all funded by their charitable arm, Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD) and Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your purchases to them whenever you shop on AmazonSmile with this link: http://smile.amazon.com/ch/75-3103575
Written by Karen Smith, VP–Advocacy at Montana’s Credit Unions
As the VP of Advocacy, Karen Smith focuses her time to support the advocacy work of Montana’s credit unions in political, philosophical, and philanthropic areas. Karen has been with Montana’s Credit Unions since 2003 and is a designated Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) as well as a certified credit union financial counselor (CCUFC) and financial coach.