Members Among Those Killed By Tornadoes; CUs Offering Help

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Hoosier State credit unions are waiving fees, enacting skip payment plans and just offering a shoulder to cry on after the killer tornado that swept through this southeastern Indiana town.

Credit unions were largely untouched physically by the tornado, but among the dead are numerous credit union members.

While Evansville Teachers FCU's nine offices were spared any physical damage and only one lost power, eliminating telephone service and one ATM, two of its members were killed and another remains hospitalized by the tornado, according to VP of Marketing and Member Services Nancy Golding.

"There could be others but we don't know. It was a miracle we don't have any more after seeing the damage," she said.

Golding said Evansville Teachers has established unsecured 60-month loans at 3.75%, up to $10,000, in addition to car loans offered at the member's present rate or at 4.75% for 72 months.

"That's a really good rate for unsecured (loans)," she said.

Teachers FCU is also waiving early withdrawal fees for certificates of deposit and is waiting on word from the Treasury Department regarding the possibility of members cashing in savings bonds early. It is rushing the replacement of lost checks or debit cards blown into the sky by the tornado. Golding said locals were finding photographs and documents up to 35 miles from the disaster zone.

Golding said members who couldn't produce any form of ID were verified by staff as Teachers FCU takes their photograph and stores their signature when an account is opened for the first time. "Opening a new account number is the best security," she said.

Golding said the credit union has already sent staff into the field to obtain member signatures for transactions and loan applications, as some members are repairing damaged homes, lost their homes or can't travel to a branch.

Meanwhile, Shannon Bradley, senior VP-sales and marketing for Heritage FCU in Evansville, said that one of the credit union's three offices is just a quarter-mile from the worst hit area in Newburgh, Ind. None of Heritage's 100 employees were injured, but three members lost their lives, including a four-year-old boy.

Bradley said Heritage is reissuing debit cards and replacing financial papers for members, and employees quickly started to work past normal business hours. Bradley said she saw a sharp increase in members walking into the CU and trying to perform transactions as they talk about the tornado. Many are having a hard time doing both.

"They're dissolving into tears at the branch," she said.

Only a day after the tornado, Heritage opened an account to accept donations for the American Red Cross, begun its skip payment plans and waiving fees for "everything we possibly can." Bradley said the CU has already seen an increase in deposits due to insurance money. Bradley said Heritage hasn't started any special loan programs to pay for damaged or lost cars and homes but didn't rule out the possibility.

Both Heritage FCU and Evansville Teachers FCU have provided volunteers for disaster relief and are planning more fundraising events such as employee jeans day. Credit unions wishing to donate funds to the Indiana tornado relief effort of the Indiana league.

For information, visit www.icul.org.

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