WSW: Boosting Credit Scores, Families' Hopes With New Approach

Sep 6, 2017

Jim Houston and Angela Brown, board president and CEO of Kalamazoo's Community Promise Federal Credit Union, respectively, say their greatest joy is helping customers improve challenged credit scores.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

Bad credit score? A history of bouncing checks? All are welcomed in the doors at Community Promise Federal Credit Union in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood, but you won't leave the same.

In exchange for affordably-priced loans, for example, customers must submit to financial counseling as well as turn in a household budget.

Officials say their strategies are helping this non-profit bank, which is nearing the five-year mark, be successful in its mission of reversing the challenged financial pasts of low-to-moderate-income people.

On Thursday's WestSouthwest current-affairs show, Angela Brown, chief executive officer of the Community Promise Federal Credit Union, and Board President Jim Houston outline the bank's accomplishments since its January 2013 opening, and discuss future plans.

The lender opened in a neighborhood with no financial institutions. It offered itself as an alternative to high-interest payday loans and costly check-cashing services.

Today, Brown and Houston say, Community Promise has close to 700 accounts, up from about 50 in the calendar year ending December 2013, representing a 93 percent growth in accounts. Assets now stand at just under $850,000.

Brown and Houston further count among the accomplishments the credit union getting its members released from pricey automobile loans and put into more reasonable ones through a special program.

They say individuals with poor credit can face financing fees as much as $1,000 to $5,000 on used-car loans at some places, in addition to high interest rates.

At Community Promise Federal Credit Union, auto loans have lower interest rates, no financing fees and often longer repayment periods.

CEO Angela Brown says this is enabling customers to be better able to honor their loan commitments with the credit union. "We have seen wonderful situations of people that have been able to build their credit," she says.

"They've gone (up) from an under-600 score. They've built it up high enough where they can actually buy a home."

Officials are also proud of the outreach to the Hispanic community. Banking materials are available in Spanish, and two staff members speak the language fluently. 

A big future goal is opening a branch on the Northside Neighborhood in Kalamazoo, giving the bank two locations, they say.

Board President Jim Houston says Community Promise is designated a "community development credit union for low-income" people under its charter with the National Credit Union Association.

That means its mission is to both assist those of limited means and spur economic development. 

Houston says the bank is always looking for financial contributions to carry out that work. Its designation allows it to accept grants and donations.