Setting Up Students for Success — the Madison College Branch

Rob Christianson deals with the special issues that Madison College branch members face every day. He shares why the Madison College branch location is unique and how UW Credit Union helps students manage their financial lives.  

Why is the Madison College branch location unique?

Our branch is unusual, because we’re located in the main building of the college. We develop deep relationships with our students because we’re here every day. Every student walks past our branch at least once a day and our staff are seen on campus. Whether we are giving a seminar, working with a college staff member or buying lunch in the cafeteria, our consistent visibility, plus our objective advice, leads our students to trust us deeply.

A lot of faculty and staff are members here. I had a call from a staff member who works in the counseling office who needed information for someone in financial crisis. We found a solution for this person. You get issues like this in community branches, but it feels more frequent here.

We’re able to interact with Madison College members whenever they have a need. We closed a home equity loan in the driveway because it was more convenient for that member. We are first in people’s minds because the branch is here.

How does the Madison College branch help students manage their money? How do we set them up for success? 

The Madison College branch helps students with budgeting and money management every day. We also provide seminars throughout the year on campus to increase the financial acumen of our students. In the presentations, we not only talk about what is top of mind for them now—paying for school, gas money and student loans—we talk about financial concepts they will need after they graduate, such as the impact and importance of saving for retirement. We give real-life examples to illustrate the concepts.

How do we help students while they’re in school?

We offer short-term financial assistance, financial education and help to establish credit. I had a student not long ago who was in danger of being homeless. He was going through a transition and money was tight. We came up with solutions to help him with his situation.

Another member was a returning student with serious financial issues. She began to work with a Financial Specialist here. When we were able to approve her for a credit card, she cried in the lobby. Now, she has a healthy savings account, a credit card and overdraft protection. She has stable employment and will be graduating a year from now.

What products do we have available to help students?

The Student Package helps our students most. It offers a savings account and a checking account, a $500 reserve line of credit, a $1000-limit student credit card, a debit card, Paperless Statements, access to the Mobile App and provides an Express Credit Check-up.

Many in this demographic have never seen their credit report before or don’t have a credit history. Some have faced difficult life situations. We can counsel them to pay off entries on their report like a payday loan, so they aren’t paying abusive rates and can clean up their credit report.

Another helpful product is the paycheck advance. If you meet certain criteria, you can qualify for a $500 line of credit. You can receive the money when you need it.

One of my favorite things about this loan is we don’t pull your credit report. The last thing people need when they’re struggling is to have their credit pulled again. When you start making your payments, we report your payment history to the credit bureau. In seconds, the money is available to use immediately.

How do products like the Student Package help the specific needs of Madison College students?

Madison College has very few traditional students. There are a lot of first generation students here and many do not have family support. Many students work one, two or even three jobs to be here. We have a lot of students who are returning because of job loss or disability, injury or job closing. The Student Package is essential to their success, because they may not have knowledge about how to establish credit.

Some students think that the way to establish credit is to go to a payday lender, because no one will give them credit. A lot of people are surprised that we can extend them a reasonable amount of credit to start their credit history. We do it because they’re a student here. A lot of students travel here from other areas. They often need to establish credit at UW Credit Union before their hometown bank will take a chance on them.

What kinds of issues do those with student loan debt have and how do we help them deal with this? 

Madison College students have lower rates of debt than many other students because of the value that the school provides. We direct them to only borrow what they need, and we educate them on how debt will impact them in the future, so they can make the best long-term decisions.

The Madison College Financial Aid Department collaborates with UW Credit Union during student orientation and discusses how to apply for financial aid. UW Credit Union discusses what happens when financial aid is not enough. We talk about what to watch out for regarding lenders and what to do if you need to borrow more. When students receive their financial aid checks, we talk about what they need to do to make sure it lasts.

In addition, we present on financial topics that are advertised during the school year. The most popular seminars revolve around budgeting and credit basics. We talk with instructors who want us to discuss the real-world issues that students will face in the future.

What kind of issues do students have when they graduate and how does UW Credit Union help?

The average balances of student debt are significantly less at Madison College, because it’s a great value. We help with loan consolidation and refinancing, when needed. Students don’t often know the benefits of the loans they have. For example, if you have a federal loan and teach in a certain area, you may get your loans forgiven. When we talk to a student, we explain that they shouldn’t just look at the interest rate. We ask, “Are you earning enough to make your loan payment?” We help students anticipate what financial issues they’ll deal with well before they graduate and make sure they’re on the right path. UW Credit Union believes in doing the right thing for members, so they can plan for future success.

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