In honor of National Financial Literacy Month, a Look at MS CU's Financial Education Efforts

Posted April 1, 2015 by Mississippi Credit Union Association    

Philosophy into Action: Mississippi Credit Unions and Financial Education

JACKSON, MISS (4/1/15)--In a recent WalletHub study that analyzed each state’s financial literacy through measuring common indicators, Mississippi’s overall rank was 51st out of 51, as well as ranking 51st out of 51 in both of the study’s major metrics, "Knowledge and education" and "Planning and behavior."  In short, Mississippians are in desperate need of financial education.
 
April’s designation as National Financial Literacy Month offers a great opportunity to focus on Mississippi credit union’s efforts to turn around our state’s financial knowledge and behavior trends and create a positive influence on Mississippian’s financial well-being. 

CU 4 Reality™ Financial Simulations
The Mississippi Credit Union Association purchased the CU 4 Reality™ Financial Education Program, a financial simulation created by America’s Credit Union Museum.  The program, which targets a student audience, won a 2014 “Excellence in Financial Literacy Education Award” from the Institute for Financial Literacy.

During a CU 4 Reality™ event, students choose or are assigned a career with annual income, and then must make purchasing choices on life necessities such as transportation, housing, utilities and clothing, as well as make choices about extra spending, such as entertainment or owning a pet.  At the end of the simulation, students learn what it takes to make ends meet and gain a better appreciation of the importance of budgeting, financial planning and making smart choices.

In the fall of 2014, the Mississippi Credit Union Association (MSCUA), Hope Credit Union, Magnolia Federal Credit Union, Statewide Federal Credit Union and other community partners hosted a CU 4 Reality™ event for students at Congressman Bennie G. Thompson’s 7th Annual College and Career Fair, which was held in Greenville, Miss.

“We want to expose [the students] to various career opportunities,” Congressman Thompson explained regarding the purpose of his annual event. “Some might want to go to college, some might want to go to work…but, from a budgeting standpoint, they need to know as soon as possible what budgeting means to them and their family."

Taking his own spin at the “Wheel of Reality,” where students have to manage an unexpected expense or income, Thompson said, “Every so often, certain crisis’ come up, and if you don’t have a credit union or something to help get you over that crisis, it might become a nightmare.”

MUNA Federal Credit Union also hosted a CU 4 Reality™ event for Northeast Lauderdale Middle School.  The event had broad community support, as well as the enthusiastic support of the school’s teachers and administrators.  

“As a teacher, I was thrilled with the concept of the reality fair…but after experiencing it, I can say it was the best thing for my 8th grade students.  I want anything that can help them better prepare for their future and this was an exceptional experience,” said Sherri Thornton, Technology Foundations Teacher, Northeast Lauderdale Middle School.

“When I left the reality fair that day, my thoughts were, I’d love for all the students to have this same opportunity.  It was real life, it was so effective and you could see the interaction between our business community and our students,” said Randy Hodges, Superintendent of Education, Lauderdale County.

CU 4 Reality™ videos from both the Congressman Bennie G. Thompson College & Career Fair and Northeast Lauderdale Middle School are available at https://www.youtube.com/user/mscreditunionassoc/playlists.

“At least three credit unions are investigating or have already scheduled CU 4 Reality™ events this year, and we anticipate additional events being added to calendar,” said Cheryl Oggs, MSCUA Vice President, who assists credit unions in coordinating the events.

“Reality Fairs are also ideal for a collaborative credit union project, where multiple credit unions in a geographic area can share the work load, as well as the community good-will, that results from the events,” added Oggs.

In-School Credit Union
In 2010, Keesler Federal Credit Union teamed up with Biloxi High School to open the only in-school branch in the state of Mississippi.  Students are able to open accounts and bank at the branch which helps them learn practical financial management skills.  In addition, Keesler Federal offers financial education courses & resources to help the students understand their finances and learn to make wise choices that help them build a solid foundation for a healthy financial future.

Financial Counseling
Understanding financial well-being is crucial to helping consumers achieve it.  That’s why Mississippi credit unions are picking up the pace to give their staff the training necessary to help counsel members to understand and improve their financial lives.

With one of the highest graduation rates in the country, Mississippi’s success with the Credit Union Financial Counselor Training and Certification (FiCEP) program has been highlighted by both the National Credit Union Foundation (The Foundation) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). 

The Enhanced FiCEP program is a unique partnership between the Foundation's REAL Solutions program, CUNA's Center for Professional Development (CUNA CPD), credit union associations and credit unions to train staff who are then able to give professional financial counseling and education to help members better prepare for their future and to assist when they are faced with financial difficulties.  Graduates of the program earn a Credit Union Certified Financial Counselor (CUCFC) designation.

Mississippi touts more than 130 CCUFCs at thirty-one credit unions across the state.  Another thirty-three students are enrolled in the 2015 training and will earn their CUCFC designation in May.

Broader Financial Education
To extend their financial counseling capabilities, many credit unions have partnered with GreenPath, Inc., a non-profit, credit counseling organization.  Through GreenPath, credit unions work to reduce delinquencies and provide their members financial coaching and education tools, and, when needed, debt counseling.

1st Mississippi FCU, Camp Shelby FCU, McComb FCU, MUNA, Mississippi FCU, MS DHS FCU, MS TELCO FCU, Statewide FCU and Southern Mississippi FCU are all enhancing their member financial counseling service options through Greenpath, Inc.

Individual credit unions are also hosting workshops to give members, as well as the community, the opportunity to learn about every-day financial topics like credit scores, creating a budget, and purchasing a vehicle or home.  The workshops offer great information, as well as the opportunity for members to have their specific questions answered.

Support of financial literacy initiatives 
Charles Elliott, MSCUA President/CEO, served on the advisory committee for the development of Mississippi State Treasurer Lynn Fitch’s financial literacy effort, which was unveiled in the summer of 2014.  The Treasurer’s Education About Money, or TEAM financial literacy initiative, seeks to make personal finance education resources available to every high school student across the state.

“Treasurer Fitch has been a relentless advocate of financial education since she took office,” said Elliott.  “The TEAM initiative is an excellent way to bring attention to and provide solutions for helping improve Mississippians’ financial literacy.”

Credit unions, Elliott believes, should be a cornerstone for financial literacy.

“As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, a basic tenet of the credit union philosophy is that education and training, particularly financial education, can help members contribute to the success of their cooperative, as well as the personal betterment of the members’ lives,” said Elliott. “Mississippi credit unions are living that philosophy by actively working to help Mississippians’ of all ages gain access to the education and knowledge that can help lead them to a better state of financial well-being.”

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