Embracing Change

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Tarrant Federal Credit Union is so intent on its members saving money, that it's even willing to do all the work.

In another case of credit unions trying to jumpstart member savings accounts by focusing on small dollar amounts, Tarrant Federal Credit Union wants its members to save, even if it's only a few pennies at a time.

The "Change is Good" program creates a separate savings account that is tied to a member's share account and debit card.

When a member makes a purchase using a debit card, the leftover "change" is rounded to the next higher whole dollar amount and that change is then shifted to the new savings account.

Tarrant FCU President Lily Newfarmer said she got the idea for the savings accounts last year when she learned of Bank of America's matching cash rewards program.

While she didn't have the assets to match member spending as BofA had done, Newfarmer decided she could take a more active role in their savings.

Newfarmer said her prime motivation was the national negative savings rate among Americans.

"We're moving their own money for them," she said. "A lot of times they don't have the discipline. At least money is being set aside."

Newfarmer said there are four benefits of the "Change is Good" campaign: Tarrant FCU wants members to save; the CU will gain share accounts; interchange fees will flow towards the credit union and more members will be using Tarrant products and services.

Increasing share accounts had previously been identified as a strategic goal for TFCU and the "Change is Good" campaign fit the bill, she said. Best of all, since members opening share accounts would receive a debit card anyway, the program isn't costing TFCU anything at all.

"We want them out there using their debit card (versus cash). My teenage son uses it for everything," she said.

For example, if a member uses a debit card to buy $9.95 worth of groceries at the supermarket, Tarrant FCU will round the tab up to $10 and shift five cents into the separate savings account.

While the dollar and cents amounts might not seem to be much, and she admits the plan is a bit "gimmicky," Newfarmer said it gets people moving and it's better than not saving anything.

Moreover, Newfarmer suggested that share account holders might not miss such small amounts and once members not used to saving see how even the smallest amounts add up in the long run, they'll become savers instead of spenders.

To get the campaign going, Newfarmer challenged her 20 employees to try to open 200 new "Change is Good" accounts. The challenge worked, as 152 accounts were opened in only one-and-a-half weeks.

"People are excited about it. They love it," she said. "It's not a lot of money, but we do want to reward them."

To add to the excitement, Tarrant is upping the ante. As part of the promotion, on July 28, the credit union will choose two members with debit cards and match the cash total in their "change accounts" up to $250 each.

Tarrant Federal Credit Union was chartered 50 years ago for county employees and now serves 6,355 members with $37 million in assets.

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