Credit Unions Reach Out to ‘Unbanked’ Poor Latino Communities

June 26, 2014

On the surface, it’s easy to mistake Community Trust Prospera as a check-cashing store that serves large immigrant communities. However, in reality, Prospera is an undercover credit union that is helping low-income Latinos build credit and avoid predatory bank practices.

In 2013, the National Council of la Raza released a survey that shows that 20 percent of Latinos in the United States don’t use banks. As a result, the Latino population is has a higher risk of relying onpredatory payday loans and high-priced check-cashing services.

However, Prospera offers customers without bank accounts an alternative to paying fees to cash their checks. In addition, their Spanish-speaking employees encourage community residents to open a savings account or apply for a credit-building loan, the National Journal reported.

The first Prospera branch opened in 2010 in Wisconsin. Now, there are six branches that serve a total of 11,000 members and has acquired $1.3 million in savings.

Prospera is just one of six check-cashing-and-banking branches that recently opened in San Jose and Los Angeles County to help coax poor Latino communities into the financial mainstream.

“It’s a baby step,” said Randy Chambers, CFO of Self-Help, a credit union that runs Prospera. “Many have never had a credit history and now they’re building credit.”

“Owning a bank account is not a silver bullet to financial wealth. But it is the first step,” said Marisabel Torres, a wealth-building policy analyst for the council.

Reaching out to Latino neighborhoods has also in turn allowed credit unions to tap into a new, promising market, which credit-union leaders say is crucial for their growth. Subsequently, many have come up with unique ways to attract Latinos, particularly immigrants, into the financial mainstream. For instance, a credit union in North Carolina offers members a prepaid debit card that they can send to relatives in their native countries. One credit union in Iowa offers a special quinceaƱera loan for families who want to throw their 15-year-old daughters a traditional Latin American birthday bash. According to The Sun Immigration, Prospera also offers a low-interest Dreamer Loan for young immigrants who qualified for government protection looking to apply for an extension to stay in the country for an additional two years.

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