In a Nutshell: For someone lacking in the basic skills associated with financial literacy, applying for a home loan or improving a credit score can seem like daunting tasks. But when Tampa Bay-area residents face challenges like these, they can turn to GTE Financial, a local credit union well-versed in providing assistance and solutions to members. GTE Financial specializes in financial education for grade school and college students, as well as adult learners. The credit union also offers products designed to build savings and improve credit. Through its educational programs, products designed to improve personal finances, and other rewards, GTE Financial helps its members reach their goals and enjoy a higher quality of life through responsible money management.
A Tampa couple — let’s call them Tom and Linda for the purposes of maintaining anonymity — were interested in buying a home, but they faced a few initial obstacles.
Their credit history was less than ideal, which created difficulties for them when it came to qualifying for favorable loan terms. Plus, they didn’t have enough money saved up to make a significant down payment. Many people face these same challenges, and for those lacking adequate financial education, they can seem insurmountable.
Luckily, Tom and Linda didn’t have to deal with these problems on their own. The couple worked with a hands-on financial mentor who helped them change their saving habits and improve their credit scores, putting them on track to get their loan and the keys to their new home.
“It’s people helping people. We really stand behind that,” said Holly Markham, Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement and Student Strategy at GTE Financial.
GTE Financial pursues this mission through targeted financial education for grade school and college students, as well as adults at all stages of life. The credit union supplements these efforts with a plethora of financial products that help members build their savings and credit.
“Financial literacy helps people make better decisions and helps them reach their financial goals,” Markham said.
Improving Student Financial Literacy Through Presentations and Simulations
“GTE is extremely passionate about financial literacy,” Markham said. “We currently have two full-time financial educators who spend their time out in the community offering financial literacy. They teach the young folks in elementary school all the way up to adult learners.”
GTE Financial uses a variety of approaches to educate young people on money and saving, starting with Money Mammals. This program uses games, prizes, and events that make establishing saving habits a fun experience for children. The Money Mammals mascot, Joe the Monkey, makes appearances at elementary school pizza parties to get young savers excited about the basics of personal finance.
“Joe the Monkey goes out and interacts with the kids and teaches them the importance of saving,” Markham said. “That’s really what’s important with young kids.”
When they enter middle and high school, children take part in GTE Financial’s Smart City Savers simulation. Participants receive a fictional job and income, and based on those, they make budgeting decisions and life choices. This experience prepares them for adulthood when they’ll need to work, pay bills, and support their families.
“It focuses on the importance of saving money so you can make better and easier decisions down the road, and you’re not living paycheck to paycheck,” Markham said.
When students graduate and matriculate to college, they can still rely on GTE Financial’s Student Powered Financial Centers. These centers are staffed by college students who have been trained and certified through a Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) grant.
“It’s students helping students. Having the students offer that financial literacy means something different,” Markham said. “Instead of having an adult going out there and offering financial literacy, it’s more impactful.”
Employees deliver 30- to 45-minute presentations in classes and workforce training centers. They teach their fellow students about topics like saving, financing college education, and avoiding student debt. “It’s some of the basics, but it really helps hearing it from other students who are going through the same exact thing,” Markham said.
Clearly, GTE Financial understands the importance of a commitment to youth education efforts. “Most students do not focus on financial literacy in school,” Markham said. “We want to set them up for their future so they’re financially fit and ready to take on that next challenge.
Workshops and Mentoring Help Members Achieve Their Financial Goals
Unfortunately, not everyone receives an adequate financial education when they are young. For adults in this position, GTE Financial offers programs that help them get the information they need through online and in-person meetings and events.
For the busy modern professional, the GTE Elevate Financial Wellness Program is an online, self-paced learning experience. Free for members and nonmembers alike, Elevate covers topics like money basics, planning for the future, and borrowing.
Because the Tampa area historically is home to a large Latin American population and has experienced an influx of Hurricane Maria refugees from Puerto Rico, GTE Financial makes these lessons available in English and Spanish. “It’s really a great way to be able to take that next step for your financial wellness,” Markham said.
GTE Financial also offers community workshops conducted by experts from its staff. “If we’re going out and talking about home loans, we might have a mortgage expert out there with us to be able to offer their expertise,” Markham said. Other popular workshop topics covered include budgeting, understanding credit, and home buying.
Members who need more personalized information and guidance can turn to GTE Financial’s Money Mentors. This program connects them with a GTE Financial employee who has been trained to assist them and address their specific needs. Together, they’ll work toward goals such as buying a home (like the couple mentioned above), improving credit, or buying a car. “Different people have different needs, so this is a more individualized goal and budget setting,” Markham said.
Targeted Products and Programs Enhance Credit and Savings
Even with the necessary knowledge, improving your financial situation can be a tall order. To assist members in reaching their goals, GTE Financial offers products and services that ease the tasks of saving and building credit.
The 52 Week Saving Challenge is one way the credit union encourages better saving habits. On the first week, members will save a dollar; the second, they’ll save two; and so on. “By increasing it a dollar every week, they can save a significant amount of money,” Markham said. Members who meet the challenge will find they’ve saved $1,378 in a year.
Another way to save is Future Change, GTE Financial’s roundup app. “You swipe your debit card, and it will round it up to the nearest dollar, and all of that change will go into a savings account. What’s unique about our roundup app is that you can use that money, and you can apply it to a loan or a mortgage,” Markham said. “You can see the true impact of how much that little bit of change can have over a 30-year mortgage. You could shave off six months of payments with just the little amount of change you’ve accumulated through Future Change.”
For members who need to improve their credit scores, GTE Financial offers a Credit Builder Loan. “The credit builder loan is really unique. You don’t have to have money up front. And that’s sometimes the hardest part,” Markham said. “With this product, you’re starting from scratch. We set you up with an installment loan, and we start building your credit by making these monthly payments.” Payments on the loan are deposited in a savings account, simultaneously letting them save and improve credit.
GTE Financial also makes secured credit cards available that can help members improve their credit through responsible use. Cardholders will need to put down a security deposit, and in return they get an equivalent line of credit. “If you’re trying to rebuild that credit and eventually want to get an unsecured card, it’s a great way to start,” Markham said.
Reinvesting in the GTE Financial Community’s Future
Given GTE Financial’s emphasis on education and community, it’s fitting that the credit union awards scholarships to young members. In August of 2018, GTE Financial awarded scholarships of $2,500 each to 36 college-bound students in recognition of their volunteerism and academic efforts. “Those are members who have demonstrated their dedication to community service.” Markham said. “We had a really nice luncheon to celebrate the recipients. They are making a huge impact in the community.”
Another way GTE Financial gives back is through Go Points, which members earn by purchasing and using GTE Financial products. Points are redeemable for discounts, reimbursements, and cash.
“We want our members to get all the benefits of being a part of the credit union. What better way than to reward them for using our products and services?” said Cynthia Colon, Multicultural and Communications Manager for GTE Financial. “We actually give back to the member as a thank-you for choosing us as one of their primary financial institutions.”