Published March 18, 2008
Volume 16, Number 3

Credit Union Serves Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

Stephanie Jones, Lisa Eddy, and Kathy Corpuz in 1st USCU’s
headquarters branch in Hacienda.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Credit unions are often misunderstood. Part of that is due to changes in regulatory restrictions over the years. It used to be that membership was limited to a very specific customer base, for example, the employees of a single company or organization. With the advent of the community charter, however, most are now allowed to serve the general communities in which they are located. Today just about any U.S. resident has access to a credit union, according to Stephanie Jones, vice president of marketing at 1st United Services Credit Union, which has occupied its custom-built headquarters in Hacienda Business Park since 1999. “We have charters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, so if you live or work in either one, you are eligible to join,” she points out.

Another area of confusion concerns the menu of services available. Much like banks, credit unions offer a full range of financial services—checking and savings accounts, CD equivalents, mortgages and car loans, credit cards, and IRAs. The difference lies in their regulatory structure: as member-owned not-for-profit financial institutions, credit unions return their earnings to members in the form of higher rates for savings and lower rates on loans. While cautious about deploying technology, they are certainly up to date, offering all the conveniences of online banking and a nationwide network of ATMs with no user fees.

The same conservative posture is helping 1st United weather the volatility currently seen in the mortgage industry. “A few local credit unions engaged in riskier lending and are suffering a bit, but we are very stable at this point, having made some very smart decisions in the past few years to keep our lending standards on the more conservative side,” Jones observes.

The credit union is also actively cultivating a new crop of customers from the up-and-coming generation through eduction. Three different programs encourage youngsters and teens to develop regular savings habits, and a busy outreach schedule brings seminars on financial literacy to branches, area schools, and employer locations.  “We have a very energetic business development person who works with high school students, helping them understand finances, balance a checking account, get a good credit score, and so on,” she says. A new teen-oriented website provides information on a host of youth-related financial topics, from planning for college to smart bidding online. It also features podcasts, articles, and helpful hints like this one: “Avoid ‘lazy’ fees — Ever get charged $4 for a late DVD rental? Pay your bills on time and return rentals promptly to avoid unnecessary fees.” 

1st United started as a credit union for municipal employees in Alameda County back in 1932. In the mid-1990s it merged with a military credit union known as Alpha, and the new name was coined devised to reflect the joining of service-related occupations. Today it boasts 54,000 members, $675 million in assets, 13 branches in the Bay Area, and, thanks to its membership in the Coop network, about 25,000 ATMS across the country. “We have more ATMs available to our members” than most large banks, Jones concludes.

For more information, visit www.1stuscu.org. The home page contains a link to the Elements youth program.


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