Friday, June 22, 2018

Putting the pieces together

The Robinson family leverages ACFCU, community partners

The Robinson Family will become homeowners
this summer.
This summer, Mary and Demarcus Robinson and their twin daughters, Kay’a and Kaiya, will move into a home they can truly call their own. The American Dream is within the Robinsons' reach largely because of their experience as ACFCU members.
 “If the weather holds up we should be in by the end of July,” Mary said of the family’s move to a three-bedroom home in Patriot Place. The Elizabethton, Tenn. subdivision is a project of Eastern Eight Community Development Corp., one of ACFCU's many community partners. Without the credit union’s “Project Reinvest” down payment assistance program, the Robinsons, like so many hard-working families in Central Appalachia do, would have faced an uphill challenge in their journey toward homeownership.
The Robinsons exemplify ACFCU’s purpose of “Building Financial Relationships One Member at a Time,” as their relationship with the credit union goes back much further than Project Reinvest. The family moved to Johnson City, Tenn. five years ago. The church they joined had partnered with ACFCU on several endeavors and the couple followed Pastor Michael Cummings’ advice to join the credit union. Mary said she’s never regretted the decision, thanks to a couple key things: a strong relationship with Mimi Fink of ACFCU's Johnson City branch and the way ACFCU’s pursuit of its mission has impacted her family.
“Mimi is fantastic,” Mary said. “I’ve worked with her almost every time I’ve gone in. She’s always got that ready smile and she doesn’t fail to ask how the day is going, about how my family is doing, so she’s wonderful.”
Through the years, Mary has taken advantage of several resources ACFCU offers as an ever-growing Community Development Financial Institution. Last year, she learned about the VITA free tax preparation program and the Robinsons made the trek to Gray on a Monday night, twins in tow.
“It was such a good experience last year we decided to come back.”
Between those VITA sessions, the Robinsons ran into a roadblock with upfront costs for the Elizabethton house. They applied for Project Reinvest and received $10,500 in assistance from ACFCU, getting eight hours of homeownership counseling in the bargain.
Mary is determined to leverage her relationship with ACFCU as she and Demarcus raise two kids and juggle work and childcare, which she called “just a little bit hectic.” She said her goal is to keep building her financial awareness and capacity with the credit union by her side.
“There are times when you feel like you’re drowning, and working with ACFCU is helping me get on track and start going in the direction where I want to be.”
In the end, she said, it’s about setting an example.
“I think every day about how this impacts the girls. One of the things I wanted for them was a home, and you guys have helped make that happen.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

ACFCU and Family Promise: A dovetailed partnership

Financial coaching: More than 'checking a box'

My grandfather, Fred McLucas, spent World War II in Seattle, helping churn out planes at Boeing. Grandpa spent four years learning a craft and helping the war effort. As a young man, he didn’t do it without some help and guidance, and I’m confident Boeing had community partners who helped make sure young folks could make the most of their earnings to get a start in life. ACFCU is that kind of community partner, sharing our expertise with non-profits, employers and others.

Family Promise of Greater Johnson City is one of those partners. They serve homeless families with children, and those folks go through a case-managed process to get back on their feet. By the time they are housed again, FPJC has provided tools to help them avoid a return to homelessness. Financial health and financial knowledge are huge factors in this. The small staff at Family Promise aren’t financial experts, as Executive Director Bob Hall says in this short video. So for the past couple of years, we’ve done individualized financial coaching with client families. This is a game changer for folks when they take full advantage of that hand up we’re extending.

 Can Family Promise's staff members pull from a template, have a client fill out a survey or view a video and “check a box” saying they’ve covered the financial piece? Sure they can. But that's checking a box, not truly providing tools. We offer expert, individualized coaching with a credit report review and development of an action plan that helps people develop and reach their financial goals. We’re there for follow up, which is crucial because the journey to financial wellness is a long one with bumps along the way and lots of details to cover.

ACFCU Financial Coaching Specialist Adam Taylor
and client Tyler Hinkle.
We are working to develop enough of a relationship, and get enough buy-in, that those coaching clients will stay in a relationship with us. Emerging from homelessness can be the beginning of an upward trajectory or it can be the start of another cycle that will end badly. ACFCU has services – our coaching being one of those – and products rooted in helping people stair step to ever-increasing financial wellness and security. And we’ve got other great partners in the affordable housing space and in other agencies so our clients – whether we’ve met them through Family Promise or elsewhere – can leverage many opportunities to move ahead.

Without some continued guidance in financial matters, things can go south in a hurry. So we’re always thankful when people recognize the value we offer and continue taking advantage of our guidance through the many steps in their journeys.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Moving mountains in the Appalachians

How it's happening. Why it matters

One working mom loses her job when she can’t overcome the hurdle of a $600 repair for her run down car. This is Central Appalachia – without a decent set of wheels, it’s tough to keep a job. Another mom turns to an innovative hardship loan program operated by her rural Kentucky employer, Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU) and a non-profit partner. She keeps her job, builds her credit score and accesses expert financial coaching that will help her money move mountains, even at her modest income.

One family of modest income goes to a paid tax preparer and pays $400 so they can get part of their $6,000 refund (minus the fee) the next day. By late spring they are strapped, with little to show for their windfall. Another family gets its taxes prepared for free thanks to an innovative partnership between Tusculum College and ACFCU, but they leverage their advantage far further than $400. They utilize the credit union’s financial coaching to develop a budget. They pay down debt and exchange predatory debt for fair, affordable debt, saving significantly on interest. The credit union introduces them to its grant-funded, $10,500 down payment assistance program, and to a partner in the affordable housing space. The next year at tax time, they are homeowners. In one year, their money has moved mountains. Thanks to partnerships and hard work by the people those partnerships serve, ACFCU repeatedly finds itself at the center of life-changing progress for families.

This is not a personal finance blog, though personal finance and occasional tips will come into it.  It isn’t an advocacy blog that will be filled with strident calls for regulatory or political change. Nonetheless, commentary may appear about the political, cultural and financial industry dynamics that daily and deeply affect the financial lives of Central Appalachians – particularly those who are low and moderate-income or underserved.  

Foundationally, this blog is about people – the good,hardworking people of a region that’s often stereotyped and misunderstood – and the financial challenges they face as they strive for a decent life. It’s also about partnerships, with peopleorganizations and businesses, that counter a prevailing approach to finance gripping our country today, one that leaves many families vulnerable to predatory lending (see photo at right, which contains a personal offer to me -- 36 percent interest). That approach may be legal and make sense from the perspective of risk-based pricing and profit margins. It may be perfectly viable for a segment of our society, and it may be justifiable to shrug one’s shoulders and murmur “c’est la vie” upon hearing that someone hasn’t managed to use that approach to his or her benefit.

The letter of the law and the prevailing approach to financial services leave wide swathes of people underserved, underinformed or at high risk of crippling financial difficulty. Blamecasting, whether against the consumers “who should know better” or the institutions, laws and regulations “who should act better” doesn’t change anything. So, ACFCU is on a journey as a mission-driven, socially responsible financial cooperative. That mission is to use community and economic development to improve the financial health of people and businesses who lack adequate access to capital, high quality financial services and financial coaching in Southeast Kentucky, Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The credit union’s designation as a “Community Development Financial Institution” (CDFI) has opened doors to funding opportunities, partnerships and other resources that help ACFCU pursue such a daunting, expensive mission.

Along with a small number of other CDFI credit unions pursuing this mission, ACFCU must balance its financial safety and soundness with the mission at hand. The national credit union motto of “Not for profit, not for charity, but for service” rings true here. Through ACFCU’s purpose statement of “Building Financial Relationships One Member at a Time” (and through service to non-members) the credit union’s staff and partners are striving to “teach people to fish” as opposed to simply giving them fish. Mmmmmm… fish.

I am very privileged in my communications role at ACFCU to gather and share the underlying stories that the credit union is part of thanks to its work and that of its partners. My work in that realm, as a financial coach and in community relations, also exposes me to the issues and concrete challenges facing us, our partners and, most importantly, the people we serve. The links throughout this post lead to a few of those stories. Member impact stories will remain an important part of this blog. Along with broader observations and important facts about maneuvering our financial system so that your money can move mountains, I look forward to sharing them with you.


Tech bringing financial opportunity to hills and hollers

Anthony Price had a problem. Like a number of Owsley County, Kentucky residents, Price travels for work. “Unless you work for the school ...