In a Nutshell: Credit unions were built with people and communities in mind. And First Financial Federal Credit Union in Baltimore carries out the credit union tradition of people helping people in a variety of ways. The institution makes it a point to provide financial literacy resources to its members and the community at large through several different initiatives. It also supports the community through monetary donations and volunteer efforts. When it comes to its financial products and services, the credit union provides an array of offerings with something suitable for nearly anybody’s unique financial needs.
For more than 100 years, credit unions have held the reputation as the more customer- and community-focused counterparts to commercial banks. The member-owned institutions are not beholden to corporate shareholders and are able to pass savings on to its members.
First Financial Federal Credit Union has been serving members and the community in the Baltimore region since 1953.
We recently spoke with VP/Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Peltzer and Youth Outreach Manager Cindy Jones to learn more about First Financial Federal Credit Union and how it helps members achieve and maintain financial health. We also chatted about the myriad ways the credit union engages and supports the communities it serves.
“We were started by a teacher for Baltimore County Public School employees,” Peltzer said. “Since our beginning in 1953 we have expanded to serve organizations within our community, including some of the larger hospitals, private businesses, and the majority of the private schools and universities in our area.”
The credit union holds $1.1 billion in assets, has seven branch locations across Baltimore and Carroll Counties, and serves about 66,000 members, she said.
Peltzer said First Financial Federal Credit Union has not strayed from the original roots of the credit union movement and its origins in Germany in the 1800s.
“It’s very much a people-helping-people philosophy that’s been part of the credit union movement since the very beginning, and it continues to live strong within our movement to this day,” she said.
Financial Literacy Opportunities to Suit a Wide Variety of Demographics and Needs
“There are a number of options, opportunities, resources that are available at First Financial Federal Credit Union that members are able to take advantage of,” Peltzer said. “From an education standpoint, we have a financial wellness center available on our website.”
She said the financial wellness center offers a variety of resources and covers a lot of financial topics pertinent to members’ needs.
“I think the really nice part about the wellness center is that it allows members to really zero in on the areas that are the most important to them,” Peltzer said. “They can craft and build their financial literacy journey based upon the information that’s most relevant to them.”
That’s why First Financial Federal Credit Union makes it a point to listen to what its members’ needs are, she explained. Because there isn’t one cookie-cutter solution or response that’s going to work for everyone.
“Everyone has individual needs and challenges, and it’s really important to listen to those needs, understand those needs, and then direct them to resources that can help that member in the most productive and efficient way,” Peltzer said.
The credit union also partners with GreenPath Financial Wellness.
“That’s a more personalized option where you have a financial counselor who can walk you through specific resources that would help you manage your individual debt situation,” Peltzer said. “It might be just a reorganization or it might be a full debt management plan.”
Again, it comes down to the specific needs of the member, she said.
Jones discussed some of the credit union’s financial literacy efforts aimed at schools in the area. She said the organization works with high school, middle school, and college students, and occasionally even with elementary school students.
“This year in particular we’ve been doing some parent outreach as well, so that’s been really interesting,” Jones said. “A lot of the parents will come to us and say, ‘Well, I didn’t know this growing up. It’s really good to have this information now to share with my (kids) so they can be on the path to financial freedom.’”
Staying Connected to the Community
Another important focus for First Financial Federal Credit Union is showing support in a variety of ways for the communities where its members live.
“As a member-owned credit union, First Financial is in the business of serving. But we don’t just serve our members. We serve the community,” according to the organization. “In fact, community service is just as important to who we are as our financial solutions. We know that volunteering, providing financial education, and giving back makes our communities stronger.”
Jones said that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been unique but rewarding for the credit union.
“Just this year alone, First Financial has given back close to $280,000 in funds to different organizations that we deal with,” she said.
The credit union also encourages its employees to volunteer for local causes and organizations and provides paid time off for them to do so.
Jones said the Baltimore County Education Foundation recognized First Financial Federal Credit Union as the Volunteer Organization of the Year because of its robust volunteer efforts.
“So many of our employees, even during COVID, went and volunteered,” she said. “We were all socially distanced with masks on and all the PPE. But we were happy to be there.”
Jones said food programs and food banks were also a big focus for the credit union this year.
“The Maryland Food Bank was a big recipient of our funding this year, as well as the Carroll County Food Sunday program,” she explained. “We’re also getting ready to support the WBAL Kids Campaign which provides coats and warm clothing to students in need.”
Jones said it’s great to work in an organization that not only talks about supporting the community, but it actually follows through with it.
Identifying the Best Products and Services for Members
Echoing Peltzer’s comments about helping its members determine the best course of action when it comes to financial literacy resources, the same goes for its financial products and services. Credit union employees will work with members to make sure they are getting the best possible product that fits their unique needs.
“Obtain the financing you need to achieve your greatest aspirations,” according to the website. “Whether you are buying a home or improving your current one, upgrading your vehicle, or consolidating debt, we can complement your goals with a loan that fits your lifestyle.”
Peltzer said the credit union offers a range of loans that suits a wide variety of needs.
“We have a product we call the AnyTime Loan,” she said. “And that product is designed for, like it says, any time you need some financial assistance. It can be low-dollar, it can be higher-dollar, but it’s an unsecured loan, and it helps folks out.”
She said it’s particularly well-suited for people who are looking to consolidate their other debts or want to establish or rebuild their credit.
“Plan a vacation, pay medical expenses or consolidate debt with the help of our AnyTime Loan,” according to the website. “When in need of extra cash, this personal loan can provide you with the funds you need.”
First Financial Federal Credit Union also offers more traditional loans, including auto, first mortgage, and home equity loans.
The credit union also offers competitive credit cards with reward programs and cash back offers.
If you’re in a qualifying member group and are looking for a trusted, community-minded financial institution that prides itself on customer service in the Baltimore area, First Financial Federal Credit Union is definitely worth considering.