In a Nutshell: When the COVID-19 pandemic led southern New Jersey businesses to close and send workers home, Jersey Shore FCU stepped up to help struggling members by reducing and deferring payments. That willingness to go above and beyond produced better results for businesses when they reopened. And Jersey Shore FCU’s commitment to providing quality credit-building products, financial education, volunteerism, and philanthropy drive growth and promote inclusion in the communities it serves.
Like many credit unions, Jersey Shore FCU started as a member-owned financial cooperative with a Federal charter and Common Bond field of membership. In 1963, air traffic controllers and workers at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center, the nation’s premier federal aviation laboratory, pooled their resources, spending $25 for a charter and $40 for supplies.
The credit union operated a single branch on the Hughes Technical Center property until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, led the federal government to restrict entry to aviation facilities. The credit union opened a branch outside the center’s boundaries to offer better access to its services.
That led members of the public to come in and ask to join. The credit union initially had to turn them away, but the experience led its leadership to seek a Community field of membership and expand its member base.
Jersey Shore FCU, officially renamed in 2005, now has five branches and more than $250 million in assets. It serves more than 14,000 members across Atlantic and Cape May counties in southern New Jersey.
Those two counties on the Jersey Shore are also home to big casinos. Casinos drive tourism and create jobs that the communities depend on. When another crisis — the COVID-19 pandemic — led casinos and other businesses to close, Jersey Shore FCU was there to help.
“It was a very rough time for our area with the casinos closing and laying off thousands of workers,” said Erna Laielli, Jersey Shore FCU’s Marketing Manager.
Jersey Shore FCU drew on its extensive collection of financial education resources to help members cope with the shutdowns. It also helped in more tangible ways, working one-on-one with members to waive fees, pause or reduce loan payments, to help save credit scores.
“We did all we could, and I think it counted for a lot,” Laielli said.
Checking and Loan Products to Build or Rebuild Credit
Jersey Shore FCU offers a range of affordable products to help members and businesses thrive at all stages of their financial journey. Among those offerings are checking and loan products designed for individuals looking to establish themselves financially or rebuild after a setback.
Participating in the Credit Builder Loan Program is a convenient way for members to do that because it doesn’t require money upfront. Funds are deposited instead of being disbursed when a member signs for a loan. The money gradually becomes available as the member makes on-time payments, which Jersey Shore FCU reports to the credit bureaus.
It’s a win-win, especially when the member elects to retain all the funds in the account until they complete their payments, Laielli said.
“If they don’t touch it, they have a nice little savings account at the end,” she said.
For members with bad marks on their credit reports due to checking account delinquencies, Jersey Shore FCU offers Fresh Start Checking to help them move forward.
Fresh Start Checking carries a small monthly fee. But members can open a regular checking account with no monthly fee after they accrue 12 consecutive months with no charges for insufficient funds or returned checks.
Another requirement for participation in Fresh Start is completing Jersey Shore FCU’s inbalance® Checking Account Management Education Program within 30 days of account opening. That’s another net positive because members can apply the management skills they learn to meet other challenges.
“When members come in owing other financial institutions money from their checking accounts, it’s often due to fees on top of fees,” Laielli said. “We give them a second chance.”
Promoting Inclusive Success Through Education
The Checking Account Management Education Program is available to members through Jersey Shore FCU’s partnership with Balance, a financial counseling and education service provider with a mission to help people achieve financial independence.
The credit union’s website provides comprehensive financial education resources, money management resources, and financial calculators. Balance resources on the platform help members learn how to make home and auto purchases, manage their money, protect their identities, prepare for retirement, and fund education.
The Balance partnership helps Jersey Shore FCU better serve the financial education needs of its diverse member base.
“All people learn differently, and Balance is great because it offers all kinds of ways to learn — podcasts, videos, guides, and short articles,” Laielli said.
The credit union also offers members access to monthly Balance webinars, with Laielli particularly impressed with a presentation designed to help graduating college students manage their student loan debt. The key is knowing where to look.
“It’s not always easy to find that information,” she said. “But Balance makes it very easy, with complete information on how things have changed over the years and what programs are available — including opportunities for loan forgiveness.”
Jersey Shore FCU also goes to area schools to present seminars on financial topics. Partnering with four area credit unions, Jersey Shore FCU also offers financial reality fairs where students learn the consequences of making shortsighted money decisions.
Along with Marketing Specialist Garrett Garcia, Laielli was on a team that modified the reality fairs during the pandemic. They got a good taste of teachers’ challenges in presenting virtual lessons.
“It wasn’t easy,” Garcia said. “We thought it would require one day, but we needed two, and even that was a stretch.”
Jersey Shore FCU: Committed to Community
Jersey Shore FCU’s response to COVID-19 is a prime example of a credit union living up to its people-helping-people philosophy. In good times and bad, member-owned credit unions have a mission to include the excluded and drive success in the communities they serve.
Jersey Shore FCU helps members reach milestones they would not otherwise have achieved through programs such as the Credit Builder Loan Program.
For example, one member, a single mother, used successive Credit Builder Loans to improve her credit score and build a nest egg for a home purchase. She was proud to state on the Jersey Shore FCU website that she became a homeowner thanks to the credit union’s help.
Jersey Shore FCU also offers direct community assistance through volunteerism and philanthropy. Garcia assists the credit union’s Social Action Committee in those efforts.
Members and employees donate school supplies through the credit union’s Tools for Schools Drive.
“Every year, we ask the teachers what they need the most, and we all chip in,” Garcia said.
The Social Action Committee has spearheaded donations for the Special Care Nursery at Shore Medical Center in the community of Somers Point and The Alcove, a center for grieving children and families located in Galloway. It has also helped support a local animal welfare organization, Funny Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Laielli said that, with rising costs and interest rates, anything the credit union can do to help is appreciated. In 2022, for example, Jersey Shore FCU held a kid-friendly drive for a local food bank to help offset the loss of free school meals during the summer season. It’s one more way Jersey Shore FCU steps up to make a difference.
“Our membership is incredible when we do these fundraisers,” Garcia said. “They take it to heart — as we do.”