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A $7,500 REAL Solutions Initiative Grant from the Wisconsin Credit Union Foundation is helping members of Park City Credit Union in Merrill improve their creditworthiness, establish budgets and get on a more solid financial path. The credit union used the funds it was awarded in 2012 chiefly to advertise its Credit Rebuilder Program, which began this February.


The Credit Rebuilder Program offers low-interest loans to help borrowers establish or re-establish credit when other typical means are not available. Loans between $500 and $1,500 are held in borrowers' savings accounts and released as they make timely payments. Repayment behaviors over a 2- to 3-year period are reported to credit bureaus to improve borrowers' credit scores, which in turn improves their access to future loans at lower rates.

The credit union has three collections staff who are Certified Financial Counselors who help borrowers stay on track. In addition, the credit union has partnered with GreenPath Financial Services, a debt management firm, to allow for additional member referrals for assistance, as needed. An aim is to one day have a counselor in each of the credit union's four offices.


As of June, 10 Credit Rebuilder Loans have been granted and 23 members are using counseling options through GreenPath. Six members have used a GreenPath program that automatically pays their debts while financially educating them so that they can eventually make payments independently. The company provides educational articles and budgeting software through the credit union's website as well as statement inserts to promote the program.


Grant funds have helped purchase billboard advertising, brochures, radio ads including web banners and materials that have been used at three seminars held to attract program participants.

"Typically, debtors might avoid collectors, but our members actively call the counselors they've used through the program because of the time they've spent listening and offering assistance," said Melissa Wrycha, Park City's VP of Sales & Marketing.

She explains that while some banks offer credit rebuilder programs, they often charge as much as three times what the credit union does, and most low-income borrowers can't afford to lock up their own funds up front in order to participate.


The credit union says the program has been a great way to avoid saying "no" to financially troubled members while building strong relationships and loyalty. The program's brochure says that the program can help individuals find their way out of a costly cycle of high-interest payday loans.


How could your credit union help members with a little financial assistance? Read the guidelines for a REAL Solutions Initiative Grant and apply by July 1.


For more information, on Park City's Credit Rebuilder Program, contact Melissa Wrycha at 715-536-8351.

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