Credit unions + financial education = brighter futures

Financial Literacy Month and #CUYouthMonth shine a positive spotlight on the work credit unions do year-around to empower consumers.

People helping people is a cornerstone of the Credit Union Movement. It’s no surprise that generations after Great Depression-era workers first pooled their financial resources to stand up the credit union model, their families are financially stronger. They have their own homes. They run small businesses. They pursue higher education and other financial ideals.

Still, the need is great for financial education to help people navigate their daily lives. According to the FDIC, 5.9 million households were unbanked in 2021 which means no one living in that household has a savings or checking account at a credit union, bank, or other financial institution. Without that banking relationship, or general financial education, they often turn to costly and risky options offered by bad actors.

Consumers who do have access to banking services are also struggling to overcome financial challenges that even the visionaries who established the first credit unions probably didn’t foresee. For example, a recent survey by Zillow finds homebuyers need to make an average of more than $106,000 a year to comfortably afford a house. Gasoline is nearing $5 a gallon in parts of the country.

And we’ve seen eye-popping news coverage about a popular fast-food lunch costing as much as $18!

While inflation is out of consumers’ control, credit unions are providing viable solutions such as more affordable credit, alternatives to predatory financial products, and, importantly, financial education to help consumers make the best possible choices about what they’re going to pay for, and how.

Here are examples of work credit unions do day-in-and-day out to empower people to build brighter financial futures:

Starting on the right financial foot early in life

Many credit unions offer youth savings accounts that charge no fees or have no minimum opening balance. Canopy Credit Union in Spokane, Washington is offering a unique program that provides teen parents with matched savings and access to an emergency loan program. Many credit unions sponsor hands-on events that teach students about real-world financial responsibilities in a fun, engaging format.

This year alone in the region served by GoWest Credit Union Association and GoWest Foundation, more than 5,000 high school students have attended a Bite of Reality Fair and learned how to address the financial challenges they will soon face as adults—paying for rent, transportation, food, clothing, and other expenses.

There are more than 800 credit union branches located in elementary, middle, and high schools nationally, giving students the opportunity to save their allowances or paychecks from part-time jobs. An added benefit is that these branches offer job training to the student tellers. Rogue Credit Union in Medford, Oregon, is proud to share that 21 of its team members, got their start at in-school branches.

Changing the law to support financial learning

Credit unions across the country are lobbying legislatures to require financial education in schools. Last year, a credit union-backed bill passed in Oregon that will require high school students to learn budgeting and career path skills in order to graduate. Legislation passed in Idaho as well, that will provide a financial education class to students in grades 9-12. There are 25 states that require a financial literacy course for graduation. Parents, educators, and policymakers often look to credit unions to help them design financial literacy programs, and to advocate for legislation requiring classes.

Prioritizing adult financial education

While it’s very effective for financial education to begin early in life, credit unions acknowledge that adults need these services, too. The number of financial decisions they must make and plan for can be overwhelming. In addition to providing for themselves, they are often looking out for others including children and their adult parents. In addition to everyday stresses over money, they worry about fraud, higher education, their own retirement, and healthcare. Thousands of the nation’s credit unions are keeping up with the changing landscape by offering financial education to these adult consumers as well. Tucson Federal Credit Union is a case in point. Their Multicultural Empowerment Center offers bilingual, in-person, and online training around household budgeting, saving, improving credit, and job-hunting skills – and membership is not required for adults to leverage this opportunity. Ent Credit Union in Colorado is another credit union offering robust services through their Online Education Center.

There is no question that navigating life’s financial decisions is more manageable when people have been provided with financial education opportunities.

Credit unions shine in this space and need to continue sharing this work with policymakers, community partners, and their members as a big differentiator in the financial services marketplace.

Financial Literacy Month and #CUYouthMonth give credit unions the opportunity to bring new attention to the work they do to help people manage their money, through events, social media shares, and news media outreach. Don’t miss this opportunity to spotlight your CU’s unique support of financial education this month, and beyond!

Jennifer Wagner

Jennifer Wagner

Jennifer Wagner is the EVP and Chief Advocacy Officer of GoWest Credit Union Association, serving the credit unions of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, and their 17.5 ... Web: Details