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Johnson City resident finds relief from high-interest loans through ACFCU financial service

Zach Vance • Jan 4, 2017 at 9:11 PM

Johnson City resident Lela Williams’ financial situation was spiraling downward. Surviving on only $733 a month, Williams was contributing more than two-thirds of her monthly income toward multiple payday and title loans.

“There was no extra income, there was nothing,” said Williams, who turned 53 on New Year’s Eve.

To make ends meet, and with few alternatives, Williams continued using title loan and check advance services to survive each month.

“Basically, I was in a situation of poverty. ... It was just all entwined and I just couldn’t pull out,” Williams admits. “I mean it was a dire straits, let me tell you. It was just to the point where I was going to lose everything I had.”

As Williams continued taking outhigh-interest loans, her debt quickly mounted, eventually reaching $5,000. With nowhere else to turn, Williams found relief through the Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union’s MyMoneyTrackSolutions, a banking service that personally assists vulnerable clients.

Employing a stair-step approach that included detailed financial coaching, Williams was able to secure a loan that consolidated the majority of her debt into one loan.Since then, Williams said she’s improved her credit score, while also gaining sound financial advice that will aid her in future endeavors.

While she hasn’t completely distanced herself from her past debt, Williams does have her eyes pointed toward the future.

“Now, I’m in the process of buying a home,” Williams said.

“Once I get everything straightened out with the things I have to go back and pay, it’s going to be about three or four months before I get my house. Which that’s fine, but everything has to be right. (The program) has my life on a better productive and strategic plan.”

Since the majority of the region lacks traditional financial services, ACFCU CEO Ron Scott said many people often rely on high-interest services.

“That typically leads to a cycle of increasing debt. So we created MyMoneyTrackSolutions to provide a socially responsible, non-predatory solution,” Scott said.

“It’s about improving people’s financial positions.”

But Williams is just one example of the many customers who’ve gained crucial assistance through ACFCU’s program, Scott said.

Since the program first launched in 2011, Scott said it has helped improve the financial circumstances of hundreds of “unbanked or underbanked” residents in the region.

“We trademarked MyMoneyTrackSolutions as a basket of products and services that we provide to the underserved.

It’s unique to our area and to credit unions. The best way to describe it is a stair-step approach to helping people further their financial goals,” Scott said.

“It’s ultimately about improving people’s financial positions. For some, it might be credit abusers, it’s really about getting out of credit. For others who might not be able to afford a car to get to work, it’s developing credit so they can borrow for a decent car that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg. So it’s very precise to the individual’s needs.”

Scott said ACFCU spent about $138,000 to train 26 employees in budgeting techniques to better serve MyMoneyTrackSolutions customers.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In December, ACFCU’s program earned the Credit Union National Association’s 2016 Louise Herring “Philosophy-in-Action Member Service Award” for credit unions in the $50- to $250-million asset range.

Jeff Keeling, ACFCU’s vice president of communications, said the award recognizes credit unions that demonstrate the “people helping people” philosophy, both internally and in their communities.

“Receiving recognition is great, but that’s not why we offer this program,” Scott said.

“Our team members build concrete relationships with members, which is the only way to build the level of trust necessary to help them truly improve what are often very challenging financial situations.”

To learn more about the MyMoneyTrackSolutions program, visit www.myacfcu.org or call 1-800-378-3778. Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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