Society and credit unions have come a long way, baby

In the early 1970s, a large group of women across the country, tired of the double standard of lending practices and discriminatory financial laws, decided to take matters into their own hands.

They created their own feminist credit unions.

Back then, women could hardly ever acquire a loan in their own name or establish their own credit. Everything was in the name of their husbands even if the cleaning lady worked or the person paid the bills. If a woman is single, it is just as difficult to get a loan, and more often than not her parents are asked to co-sign the loan documents.

“I remember that even though I had paid all of our bills and had a job, I couldn’t even activate the phone bill without my husband talking to a representative,” said Cindy Prestandrea, CEO of the Prince George’s Community Federal Credit Union in $ 150 million in assets in Maryland.

She started working at the Naval Federal Credit Union in 1972. “But at the time, because I grew up in a house with a very sexist father and my very servile mother, I didn’t think it was wrong. . Times have really changed.

But it was not without a fight.

In 1973, Gloria Steinem, editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, addressed a crowd at a college near Dallas. Afterwards, local activists went to Steinem and asked her what she wanted them to do for the movement. She said, “Create a credit union.” In 1974, they took her words to heart, and by 1976 there were 18 feminist credit unions spread across the country.

The goals were simple but important to the feminist movement of the time. The new credit unions would not discriminate against women and would provide small business loans and personal loans. It was difficult for women in the 70s and 80s to rebuild their lives if they encountered financial difficulties or if they had gone through a divorce. Women (especially those with low incomes) often received bad credit, custody of their children, and lived in housing where they had difficulty paying rent.

“We helped a lot of women back then,” said Jackie Fry, who was a cashier for two years at the California Feminist Federal Credit Union in San Diego. “Many women have had to hide money from their husbands to escape a bad marriage, and we have even funded abortions and divorces. It was very personal and we were very proud to be part of the movement. The California Feminist Credit Union closed in 2011.

Other feminist credit unions were located in Detroit, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Wisconsin, Washington. DC, Houston, Pittsburgh and other cities.

In some feminist credit unions, men could join, but they had to be members of organizations such as the League of Women Voters or the National Organization for Women.

“We were really doing a service that we needed back then,” said Martha Lindly, a member of the Seattle chapter of NOW and a volunteer with the Washington State Feminist Credit Union in Seattle in 1978. “Les women had many reasons at the time. to hide money. Times were so different and you couldn’t get help from the police or agencies like you can now. I’m pretty proud of those days.

But managing these credit unions has not been easy.

In Connecticut, defaults at the Feminist Federal Credit Union were high, and staff members resigned during a discussion about whether to extend loans to non-white and poor women as well. At its peak, the Connecticut Feminist FCU had $ 200,000 in assets (compared to $ 135 injected by the founders) and 1,100 members. The 700-member Washington State Feminist Credit Federation in Seattle had to stop paying interest on loans in 1980 because it struggled with over $ 20,000 in past due loans. He was forced to bring some collections to court, which other women called “non-feminist.”

Over the years, traditional credit unions have become more open to loans to women, and their voices have finally been heard. The growth of these alternative financial institutions inspired Congress to pass the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. It was phased in over a two-year period in the mid-1970s. Feminist and women’s credit unions educated their members so that they could know their rights under the ECOA. The women were able to get loans for cars and houses in their own name, and they never looked back.

On October 31, 2012, an era came to an end when the Women’s Southwest Federal Credit Union of Dallas closed its doors for good. The closed credit union was originally chartered as Feminist Southwest FCU in 1974. The NCUA made the decision to liquidate the WSFCU and cease operations after determining that the credit union was insolvent and had no prospects. to restore viable operations. At the time of its closure, Women’s Southwest served many select groups primarily focused on women’s advocacy, interests and affiliation. While strongly supporting women and their financial problems, the credit union has suffered from idealistic lending practices, too many loan losses, and volunteer burnout – the same issues that have forced other credit unions feminists to shut down across the country.

“When it comes to women and finance, there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Teresa Freeborn, president and CEO of the Xceed Financial Credit Union, based in El Segundo, Calif., The credit union $ 751 million based in El Segundo, Calif.

“Although we have come a long way, I am sometimes shocked at how far behind we are still. Not so long ago, some of our credit union lending policies still required a husband to co-sign a loan for a female member… Today, the majority of household financial decisions are made by women, but we have found in our research that they often do not have the same level of understanding as their male counterparts.

Women are also more risk averse, Freeborn says, and are more likely to find themselves in dire financial straits due to divorce, the death of a spouse, parents in need of care, and children who are in need of care. need financial help. Recognizing this need, Xceed has developed programs to meet the needs of women. Almost 40% of the core members of Xceed are women and over 50% of their SEG contacts are women. Through continuous training. they offer in their offices, as well as directly with their EGS, they help women navigate credit, budgeting, retirement planning, caring for others, and even how to help their children stay on top of their finances

“It’s sad, but we can hold our heads up because we made a difference,” Fry said. “We made history.”

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