Wright-Patt CU Brings Full-Time Credit Counselor In-House

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After seeing members fighting credit card debt in a struggling local economy, Wright-Patt Credit Union has brought in-house a credit counseling specialist to help get people back on their feet.

Instead of leaving the credit union for credit counseling, Wright-Patt CU members will now have direct access to Terrie Krumal, a full-time certified counselor for the last 10 years.

Vice President of Lending Linda Stephens said Wright-Patt CU has several years of experience with the Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS) of the Miami Valley, a program of Lutheran Services of Mid America. CCCS is certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951 and located in Silvers Spring, Md. The NFCC provides education, training and certification for counselors.

"We didn't have anybody with that accreditation," Stephens said.

Stephens said Wright-Patt CU had referred many members to CCCS for credit counseling over the years, but never had a full-time staffer at the credit union. The combination of experience, training and trust made CCCS the right choice for Wright-Patt CUs FOM, she said. "Our experience over the years is, their intention (CCCS') is to help members."

Stephens said the CU has promoted the credit counseling service in its newsletter and local media. To keep CU employees informed, Stephens has even taken Krumal on the road to the branch offices to educate them and train tellers to spot the warning signs of a member having trouble with debt. "It's starting to really pick up," Stephens said.

While the most common problem she sees is over-extended credit cards, Krumal said the struggling local economy has caused job layoffs, reduced work hours and increased anxiety in members' lives. Krumal teaches Wright-Patt tellers to pay attention to simple comments: a wife mentioning her husband's recent layoff; a member with a high number of returned checks or a recent loan application that the CU has rejected. The teller can provide a sympathetic ear, but more importantly remind members of the new counseling service.

"It's just listening in general," Krumal said.

Krumal said another large part of her job is stressing the proper use of credit cards and a simple savings plan. For instance, virtually every American drives a car. Any car will inevitably need basic maintenance or break down. If members know a financial need is coming, they can prepare. "We know it's going to happen," Krumal said. "You can save for it."

Counseling interviews are private one-on-one sessions that cover all aspects of a member's financial profile. Topics discussed include financial goals, expenses, income sources, housing costs, debt, debt settlement, taxes or anything else affecting member finances. A plan of action is always created, which Krumal says some members attack in earnest and others take on in cautious steps.

"The goal is to help them find a way out of what they think is a dark tunnel with no way out," Krumal said.

President George W. Bush signed the new Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in April, 2005 that will take effect on October, 2005. Part of the new rules for bankruptcy is for any filer to seek credit counseling from certified agencies, such as CCCS of the Miami Valley.

Stephens said she has recently seen television and print advertisements by lawyers encouraging people to file before the new law takes effect in October. Stephens said after getting a member's credit and debt under control, helping members avoid bankruptcy is one of Wright-Patt CU main goals.

"If we can help a small number (avoid bankruptcy), we'll feel successful," she said.

Stephens said Krumal is contracted by Wright-Patt CU, which pays her fee to CCCS each quarter. Stephens said she recommends having a certified credit counselors in-house for any credit union. But, she cautions other CUs on making sure the credit counseling service is upstanding and has its members' best interest in mind.

Wright-Patt CU has more than $1 billion in assets and serves nearly 155,000 members in Southwest Ohio and parts of Indiana.

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