In a Nutshell: Credit unions are known for their members-first attitude and investment in financial education. However, some take this commitment further than others. Headquartered in Carson City, Greater Nevada Credit Union has demonstrated this with outstanding efforts to improve the financial literacy and stability of its members and their communities. From working with at-risk individuals and educating high school students through hands-on experience and financial simulations to sponsoring financial literacy programs and resources at the college level, GNCU helps Nevadans live more sustainable financial lives.
Picture your average high school student. Let’s call him James. While only 17, he’s already thinking about buying his first home.
Like a lot of teens, he’s explored the mansions of the rich and famous through TV shows and entertainment blogs. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly the sort of home he wants for himself. But as he goes over his finances with his real estate agent, it becomes apparent that this lifestyle isn’t feasible. With a wife, two children, and an ailing mother to support, he certainly can’t meet those expenses on a salesman’s salary and still afford a mortgage on a dream house.
James looks up from the finance sheet and to his Realtor and asks, “Can’t I just get rid of the kids?”
Luckily for James — and his kids — neither the house, his family, nor his profession are real. They’re all part of an invented persona that James has adopted for a simulation called Bite of Reality. This activity is designed to help high school students better understand the financial decisions they’ll soon have to make as independent adults.
Bite of Reality is one of many programs supported by Greater Nevada Credit Union as part of its commitment to fostering financial literacy in the communities it serves.
Other GNCU initiatives include hands-on banking education for teens, financial mentorship for college students, and providing information and counseling to the public. Because of these programs, we’ve chosen to recognize GNCU with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for a commitment to financial education through proactive outreach.
“The obvious goals are to help people with their financial lives and get them where they want to go,” said Kerstin Plemel, Vice President of Marketing at GNCU, “but also to be a good partner in their communities.”
GNCU Embraces Its Local Roots to Benefit the Community
In the late 1940s, a handful of Nevada state employees wanted an alternative to mainstream banking. So, in 1949, Nevada State Employees Federal Credit Union (renamed Greater Nevada Credit Union in 1997) opened its doors to the people of Nevada’s capital, Carson City.
“We were founded by State of Nevada employees, so we have very, very deep roots in this community,” Plemel said.
Today, the credit union has expanded beyond the Carson City community. It boasts nearly 65,000 members statewide, holds about $875 million in assets, operates branches throughout Northern Nevada, and maintains a presence in the southern part of the state. As a member of the CO-OP Financial Services network, GNCU provides shared branching and services for members of other credit unions, as well.
“As a financial co-operative, our members own the credit union,” Plemel said. “Our focus is on providing members what they need, not just in products and services, but in information so that they thrive.”
This primary interest in members, rather than investors, is part of the reason why GNCU focuses so heavily on providing financial education to members and to the public as a whole. Not content to simply provide information to members visiting its branches, GNCU takes knowledge out into the community, where it’s needed. At the helm of this endeavor is Community Relations Specialist, Michelle Hale, who works alongside community partners and sponsors to help make a difference for those who live in the areas GNCU serves.
One of these groups is Advocates to End Domestic Violence, which began in Carson City.
“It’s very active here in our community,” Plemel said. “It has clients who are trying to change their lives, and we present financial education for them.”
However, GNCU does more than help people turn their financial lives around. One of its greatest commitments is to helping young people learn the financial skills they need to start off on the right track.
Outreach and Education Help Teens Start Their Adult Lives on the Right Financial Footing
The aptly named Carson High School is the only public high school in Carson City. It also holds the distinction of being the home of GNCU’s educational branch. Founded in 1996, this is a functioning branch of GNCU that provides students with firsthand education in finance.
Interested students apply to the program and earn credits for graduation by successfully completing it.
“We usually have more students apply than we can take in,” Plemel said. “It’s a popular program.”
And with good reason: the branch provides students with an education in financial literacy, teaches them about the differences between credit unions and banks, and offers hands-on training and experience that can help them pursue careers in banking and finance.
GNCU also conducts a Bite of Reality program at Carson High and other Nevada high schools.
Bite of Reality, a program provided by the Richard Myles Foundation, is a simulation that helps teens get acquainted with adult financial life. Participants are given fictional profiles that include an occupation, salary, spouse and family status, student loan and credit card debt, and healthcare expenses. They then visit various stations to acquire goods and services like food, clothing, housing, transportation, and childcare. The simulation also introduces random chance by assigning students unexpected windfalls or additional expenses.
“Everybody has a really good time,” Plemel said. “It’s serious — obviously, they’re learning about money and managing money, but the students are really having fun doing it.”
By putting teens in real-world situations, Bite of Reality acquaints them with how to live on a budget and teaches them about making responsible financial decisions.
“It’s really fun talking to them about what they’re willing to give up to get what they want,” Plemel said. “And then they start applying it to real life and realize, ‘Wow, in a year or two, I’m out of high school and I need to start making these decisions.’”
GNCU Partners with Colleges to Help Students Make Smarter Financial Decisions
GNCU’s educational efforts don’t stop at the high school level. In addition to offering a modified Bite of Reality simulation aimed at college students, GNCU is investing in Nevada’s higher education system — particularly local institution, the University of Nevada, Reno.
In addition to sponsoring the Wolf Pack Marching Band and Wolf Pack Sports, GNCU is involved with the university’s Money Mentors Program. This program provides financial education resources to anyone at the university, not just the students. It offers financial coaching in the form of one-on-one consultation and counsel tailored to each individual.
GNCU also sponsors Western Nevada College’s driver education program, which includes high school and non-traditional students.
“If you’re there, you’re probably going to be driving and owning a car,” Plemel said. “And what does that look like?”
GNCU representatives help students understand the broader scope of car ownership.
This includes the obvious aspects, like the purchasing process and getting a loan, but it also delves into the true cost of ownership, such as insurance and repairs. Much like Bite of Reality, this helps young people envision and prepare for the financial reality of adult life.
GNCU Provides Resources that Promote Financial Well-Being
Of course, financial education doesn’t end with formal schooling; it’s a lifelong pursuit. And that’s why GNCU provides a variety of informational resources for the benefit of its members.
One of these is its virtual financial education center, which is operated in partnership with EverFi. This takes the form of a series of modules addressing various aspects of personal finance. They feature short videos, a knowledge check, and a summary of the important information.
GNCU is also partnered with BALANCE Financial Fitness, which provides free financial information and counseling. This service helps members understand concepts, like debt and money management, credit report overviews, the home-buying process, and theft solutions. Successful completion of the program improves a member’s likelihood of receiving a loan from GNCU.
“We want people to know there are resources out there,” Plemel said. “We want to work with them to make sure they get what they need. And not just, for example, that loan, but to really set themselves up for long-term financial success.”