CU In Program To Help Certain People 'Get Checking'

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Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) has partnered with eFunds Corporation and Consumer Credit Counseling Services to offer "Get Checking," a program designed for individuals whose financial problems have caused them to lose or put them at risk of losing their checking accounts.

Community members identified by credit bureau reports are invited to attend a three-hour class on the basics of balancing a checking account, reconciling a check registry and establishing and adhering to a household budget.

To show their commitment, they must pay a $35 class fee to the local Consumer Credit Counseling Services agency to cover its costs.

"This is a great way for us not to have to say 'no'," said Charla Buchanan, checking manager. "It puts the ball back into their court. If they are serious about having a checking account, they will take that class."

Paul Fager, CEFCU VP, said he wanted to point out that the program is not targeted toward low-income people, rather people of all income levels who simply have problems managing their money.

Once they complete the class and pass a minimum competency test, participants receive a certificate of course completion and the opportunity to open a checking account at the $2.4-billion CEFCU or any of the three other participating financial institutions in the Peoria area.

Each of the financial institutions donated $250 to get the program started and agreed to open checking accounts for class attendees who met the course requirements. While the code showing credit problems isn't removed from their credit bureau reports, a flag indicating success in the Get Checking program does appear, but only on reports called up by participating financial institutions.

In its first two months, Buchanan said, CEFCU has been able to open or retain 52 checking accounts.

Fager said he first suggested his CU participate in the Get Checking program after reading news reports about its successes in other areas. CEFCU participates in courses in Peoria and Decatur. Other Illinois financial institutions offer Get Checking in Aurora, Waukegan and Milwaukee. In all, 11 states offer Get Checking.

Performance evaluations from the participants after Peoria's first Get Checking course held in March showed high marks by all of those referred by CEFCU.

One member, who had lost his account due to poor management, even called to thank CU officials for helping to put him back on the right track, Buchanan said.

"He said it was the best thing he had ever done for himself," she said.

While the CU hasn't had enough time to track results, "We have great expectations," Fager said.

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