SCBA members are joining with community groups to educate potential applicants and depositors about the importance of personal credit management. These credit education programs are a win-win partnership for consumers and lenders alike: consumers learn enough to improve their credit rating, and lenders develop potential applicants with better credit quality.

In the Houston area, over 70 lenders, community groups, and credit bureaus with an interest in improving credit access have formed the Houston Credit Coalition.

Mike Hofmann, chief executive officer of First Heights Bank FSB, and a founding president of the coalition, believes creating a coalition is a productive way to put community and lender energies to use. "When people communicate as equals, they usually end up understanding each others' positions, speaking the same language, and solving real-life problems."

Putting those thoughts into practice, employees at First Heights and the other coalition members teach "Fundamentals of Good Credit," a 12-hour course that educates participants in the basics of consumer credit law; how banks evaluate credit, budgeting, and money management; and how to determine if and when they are ready to borrow.

Students completing the course receive a notation on their credit report and a diploma which they may show when they choose to apply for a loan. In time, the coalition may expand its education effort to preventive efforts by teaching first-time borrowers about credit management through the Houston schools.

The coalition has also surveyed attendees at Houston credit fairs to get a better idea of what new bridges to credit the coalition can build. The survey found that consumers needed more information about how to solve their credit problems. They wanted to know how to improve their access to existing credit products. The survey also confirmed that poor credit exists throughout society, regardless of age or income level.

"The coalition looked at our communities' credit problems and developed real-life solutions," said Hofmann. "It provides both large and small financial institutions with valid information about the communities' credit needs and arms them to do the right thing for their consumers. Additionally, the coalition provides community groups direct participation in a forum of lenders where their suggestions are taken seriously."

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