In a Nutshell: Guadalupe Credit Union in New Mexico is working hard to bring financial literacy to students through its reality fair program, which puts high school students in real-world personal finance simulations. The credit union also maintains robust financial literacy outreach efforts to its members and families in underserved communities within its service area. It was founded in 1948 by a priest who was looking to provide his parishioners with a safe, high-quality banking experience, and that community focus carries through to today. Because of its outstanding community support and financial literacy efforts, we are recognizing Guadalupe Credit Union with our Editor’s Choice™ Award.
With pending college applications, exams, social life, and extracurricular activities on their minds, thinking about personal finance is probably not at the top of the list for most high school students. Yet, starting out in the real world on firm financial footing is an important step for success in life.
Financial literacy is not a major component for most high school curriculums across the country. And at home, parents often feel unqualified to teach their children financial lessons or simply feel uncomfortable discussing it. This leaves a glaring education gap for many students who wind up graduating from high school and navigating finances in the real world without any real foundational knowledge in money management.
Guadalupe Credit Union in New Mexico is working to fill that educational gap through a variety of tactics, with its reality fair program leading the way. Through real-world simulations, students gain an understanding of things like managing budgets and building and maintaining a good credit score.
The credit union also does an impressive amount of one-on-one coaching throughout the communities it serves. This includes focused efforts on individuals and families in shelters or transitional housing to help them get back to — and stay on — solid financial ground.
Because of its commendable efforts in bringing financial education to high school students, underserved populations, and its own members, we are recognizing Guadalupe Credit Union with our Editor’s Choice™ Award.
We recently spoke with the credit union’s Financial Empowerment and Outreach Manager, Diane Sandoval-Griego, to learn more about its financial literacy and community outreach efforts.
“It is important to us that we give people tools to help them deal with money in the real world,” Sandoval-Griego said. “We want to help people, and we want to see people succeed.”
Reality Fairs and Educating Students on the Importance of Managing Money Wisely
“There are lots of things for students to learn while they’re in school, and it seems like money often isn’t a priority in curriculums,” Sandoval-Griego said. “Some schools offer business math classes, but even those don’t dive deep into how important of a role money plays in personal finances.”
Learning how to manage money and invest in savings is extremely important to learn at a young age because the early financial steps someone takes has a big impact in the long run, she said.
Guadalupe Credit Union began its reality fair program about six years ago, Sandoval-Griego said, to help provide that early foundation for students. Credit union employees go to partner schools in the organization’s service area and set up what the National Credit Union Foundation calls an interactive financial literacy tool for high school students.
“It’s a hands-on experience in which students identify their career choice and starting salaries then complete a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food,” according to the National Credit Union Foundation.
Students visit 12 different stations in Guadalupe Credit Union’s reality fair program and learn about what their career will be, how much they will earn, what their credit score is and other details that define a person’s financial status, Sandoval-Griego said.
“We actually updated our reality fair program this year because sometimes curriculums need to travel with the times,” she said. “In the past, they were assigned careers as doctors or lawyers, but those high income levels were unrealistic at this point in their lives.”
The new reality fair program focuses on what life would look like for a person entering college. With the earlier implementations of the program, students weren’t quite making the connection to the real world because the salaries were so unrelatable, Sandoval-Griego said. Now, they are managing their simulated budgets and savings much better.
“They are definitely seeing that connection more clearly now,” she said. “And they see the value of things like having a good credit score. They can easily see the correlation between a higher credit score and a lower car payment.”
One-on-One Coaching and Community Outreach Help Members Achieve Financial Goals
In 2010, Guadalupe Credit Union became certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), which means the organization was federally recognized for its work in helping its members save, build credit, and learn how to avoid predatory lenders.
“We do this through things like free financial counseling, our microloan program, free volunteer tax help, special loan and savings options for members with limited means, and our approach to treating each member as a person with a unique history and goals, not just a credit score,” according to the credit union website.
Sandoval-Griego said the credit union’s financial counseling sessions are no-judgment zones. People tend to be secretive or guarded about their financial issues more than just about any other topic, she said, because in our society there is an underlying perception that being poor is a choice.
“It’s such a wrong way to look at a life,” she said. “There are so many factors that impact a person’s life — hundreds and hundreds of reasons for a person being in whatever situation it is they are in.”
Through its financial counseling, Sandoval-Griego said the credit union works one-on-one with clients or offers group financial literacy lessons in various parts of the community, including local homeless shelters. The organization formalized its financial literacy efforts about six years ago, and the efforts are paying off.
Sandoval-Griego’s team has grown from one to six people, and it continues to identify new opportunities to provide financial education.
“Now, more than ever, we seem to be more in tune with our communities,” she said. “We are absolutely focused on financial empowerment within the communities we serve, and we want to make sure we follow that mission the way we’re designed to.”
Guadalupe Credit Union also supports its community by volunteering at various events throughout the year and at the Santa Fe Public Schools Adelante Program, which provides support for homeless children, teens, and their families in the area.
Founded by a Priest with Community Members’ Best Interests at Heart
From its inception, Guadalupe Credit Union had serving its members at the heart of its mission.
“We just celebrated our 70th anniversary last year,” Sandoval-Griego said. “The credit union was actually started by a priest who was trying to help his parishioners borrow money in a more sound and efficient way.”
She said the priest had observed members of the community falling victim to predatory lenders, and he wanted to do something about it.
“We tend to follow that line of thinking today, to do what’s best for our members and community,” she said.
Since its 1948 charter, Guadalupe has grown with the community around it. “We serve individuals and families of many origins, professions, and faith,” according to the website. Eligibility to join the credit union extends to people who live or work in Santa Fe, San Miguel, Mora, Rio Arriba, Torrance, Colfax, or Taos counties, or who have a family member that is a member of Guadalupe Credit Union.
Today, the credit union has more than 20,000 members and recently reached $170 million in assets. In 2015, it was named a Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance) Credit Union — one of only two in New Mexico.
“This designation recognizes financial institutions that are 100% dedicated to delivering responsible, affordable lending to help low-income, low-wealth, and other underserved communities join the economic mainstream,” according to the credit union.
Sandoval-Griego said one of the most important things any credit union interested in bringing more financial education to its service area is to just step outside and be involved in the community.
“We get involved with community events, and we hold a number of focus groups with community members and parents,” she said. “And we find out things like what kind of products and services are most appealing to them, and what we can do better.”
The credit union recently launched a teen checking account that does not require an adult custodian, as a result of a recently formed youth advisory board, who uncovered that we needed an account like this due to some teens not having a responsible adult to help them manage their money effectively. The account allows teens to have a checking account and debit card in their name as long as they participate in financial counseling requirements.
“When you step out in your community, it’s so important to take the feedback you get and actually utilize it,” Sandoval-Griego said.
As Outreach Efforts Grow, Guadalupe Credit Union Focuses on Recruiting Expert Volunteer Coaches
Guadalupe Credit Union’s financial counseling efforts are in such demand and are spread across such a broad area that Sandoval-Griego said the organization is looking at ways in which it can better meet its communities needs.
“We’re actually trying to get off the ground with a volunteer corps of coaches because our regular coaches continue to get busier and busier,” she said. “So, we’re focusing on that this year. We would like to possibly recruit retired accountants or teachers to work with us.”
She said it’s not only important to provide outreach to the communities, but the credit union must be prepared to follow through and provide the required level of attention needed as a result of that outreach.