In a Nutshell: Credit Union ONE serves members across Michigan with beneficial products and financial education resources. The credit union aims to ensure its members can take advantage of loans, lines of credit, and other important financial offerings. Credit Union ONE has also been active during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering waivers on payments and specialized loans to help people endure the crisis. And the institution is currently working with cities in Michigan to help expand access to homeownership.
Budgets have plenty of moving parts, including day-to-day expenses, rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and other bills. They also should include necessities like food, clothing, and short- and long-term savings. Balancing all of those budget needs can be challenging, even during the best of times.
But during emergencies, money management becomes even more crucial — and complicated. The COVID-19 pandemic threw many consumers into uncertainty by reducing — or in some cases eliminating — their income and diminishing their earning opportunities.
Two components are critical to navigating crises like the one the world faced in 2020. The first is knowing how to handle money wisely during times of uncertainty. The second is banking with a financial institution that offers support through those challenges.
That is the mission of Credit Union ONE, which serves consumers in Michigan with products that help them build credit, improve their financial situations, and educate themselves on money management. Among the tools Credit Union ONE has used to support workers during the COVID-19 pandemic are specialized loans and waivers.
And the institution plans to continue its mission by providing members with the knowledge they need to have a bright financial future.
“We want to do more financial literacy,” said Swami Seetharaman, SVP and Chief Marketing and Data Officer at Credit Union ONE. “We also want to help marginal consumers long term, helping them with their financial health, primarily not having to pay fees, and then finding the best way to get the lowest-rate product.”
Financial Education Teaches Members New Ways to Save
One way many consumers can save money is by avoiding ATM fees. Institutions charge those fees when members use machines not affiliated with their network. Credit Union ONE educates members on those fees and how to avoid them.
“We start with small steps,” Seetharaman said. “We find out if people are paying some fees that they can easily avoid.”
Credit Union One offers CO-OP, a network of 35,000 ATMs that can help members save money on withdrawal fees across the country.
“Sometimes our members use other ATMs and pay $3 or $4 to the other institution, and we charge them as $1.50,” Seetharaman said. “So we constantly educate them, saying, ‘Wherever you use the ATM, just within half a mile, there’s another ATM that is practically free for you, no charge. So if you had used those in the last month, you could have saved $25.’ We are constantly looking at our membership data and helping them to find ways to avoid fees.”
But helping members save money is only half the equation. The other half is helping them put that money to better use than to pay unnecessary expenses like ATM fees.
That’s why Credit Union ONE offers a variety of financial education resources on its website, including access to a full spectrum of financial wellness services from GreenPath to help adults improve their financial literacy and money management. It also offers educational content for children through Money Mammals, which helps young people learn positive financial habits.
Not everyone develops good money management habits when they’re young. So Credit Union ONE also offers a variety of products that allow adults to improve their skills and overall financial situations.
Specialized Products Help Improve Credit Scores and Habits
One of Credit Union ONE’s most popular products is its Credit Builder Loan, which helps borrowers raise their credit score to qualify for more beneficial products in the future. Another is its secured credit card, which serves the same purpose.
Both products aim to help borrowers learn financial responsibility and graduate to other offerings to save them even more money.
“We move members to an unsecured credit card once we know that they’ve been using the secured card responsibly,” Seetharaman said. “So it’s like a graduation. We do the same thing with a second-chance checking product if you are in good standing for 12 months. We can then move you to the regular checking product, which gives you much more options, including reward points.”
Credit Union ONE takes those steps to help marginalized borrowers improve their financial knowledge and situations. Those products can make them into more savvy financial consumers and, eventually, help them qualify for more favorable products — including home and auto loans that charge lower rates.
“We specifically target marginalized borrowers. We are also offering opportunities for consumers who are in the lower tier payment relief,” Seetharaman said. “You might be paying a 14% rate on your auto loan because cars are required for people to get to work. As long as you had made good payments for at least six months on that auto loan, today, we can refinance that for much lower. I mean significantly lower.”
Waivers and Loans Bolster Members During the Pandemic
Managing money and finances can be challenging under the best circumstances, and the COVID-19 pandemic only made matters worse for many. That’s why Credit Union ONE was quick to act and help bolster the financial well-being of its members during the crisis.
“We were proactive last year, knowing what the unemployment rate was — at least for a few months,” Seetharaman said. “We proactively looked at our members who have a loan with us. And, for example, we gave them a 90-day payment waiver. That is like a holiday; they don’t have to make a payment, and we will report them as current to credit bureaus.”
Credit Union ONE also extended the duration of that waiver for those who were out of work and unable to resume payments. At the same time, the credit union was mindful of those frontline workers who had no choice but to continue working — many times under more difficult circumstances than before the pandemic’s onset.
“Some of the frontline employees, they have to go to work no matter what the situation was,” Seetharaman said. “So we offered them a frontline employees workers loan — practically no questions asked. If we know that you are a frontline worker, we will give you a loan to meet some basic expenses in the beginning, because some of these people were working long hours, and they couldn’t even go to the stores and buy stuff. The smallest thing that we could do was to offer them a loan product. We have stepped up. And we have been proactive.”
Credit Union ONE: Expanding Access to Homeownership
Credit Union ONE works hard to directly help members improve their financial situations. But that is only one stop on the path to financial well-being. The institution understands it can benefit members long term.
For example, Credit Union ONE promotes homeownership by offering FHA loans and helping people improve their credit to get a better rate on a mortgage.
“We are exploring various ways to work with Detroit, Ferndale, and some other cities,” Seetharaman said. “What we are trying to do with the city is encouraging homeownership, especially for those who are renters today.”
Mortgage payments are often lower than comparable rental payments. In addition to saving money each month, homeowners also build equity in their properties, which they can leverage in an emergency.
While maintaining a home places more responsibility and effort on the individual, it is a way to save money, build wealth, and achieve financial independence. Credit and funding can often stand in the way of homeownership.
“People who are looking to move to a new home, who are currently renting, can’t afford it,” Seetharaman said. “They have some issues in their credit, but they have a job now, and they want to get back into being productive borrowers. So we are working with cities to fund some of those loans.”
Credit Union ONE helps its members gain confidence and financial independence with a robust mix of support, products, and education.