It may seem like joining a credit union is the same as opening an account at a bank, but that’s not true. The biggest difference between a bank and a credit union is profits. Banks focus on building profits for their investors, while not-for-profit credit unions invest that money in you. Here are a few perks you get as a credit union member with Freedom First.
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Freedom First has done the hard work to make sure our products and services are on par with the finest institutions. But what does Freedom First offer that no one else does? We’ve been locally headquartered and operated since 1956 — we live here, we understand our community, and we have a vested interest in our region. We’re not going anywhere; in fact, we’re continuing to grow, which in turn enables us to deploy capital back into our community.
Responsible Rides is an award-winning auto buying program for low- to moderate-income earners that also includes educational classes on finances and budgeting, as well as car maintenance and care. This program works closely with a network of local nonprofit partners to reach community members: Total Action for Progress (TAP), New River Community Action, Support to Eliminate Poverty (STEP, Inc.), and local area car dealers and mechanics.
Our full-time, in-house coordinator streamlines the lending process for borrowers, coordinates vehicle maintenance classes, and travels regularly to meet with residents across our region.
Freedom First’s robust Business Banking and Commercial Lending departments worked hard with local developers, business owners, and entrepreneurs to breathe new life into our region through commercial redevelopment of existing properties, often preserving and honoring the buildings’ historical significance to the surrounding community.
Freedom First’s Affordable Housing Program is managed by a Virginia Housing Development Authority-certified Mortgage Loan Officer who works with members for months or years to achieve the goal of home ownership through smart finance management, down payment assistance, home ownership counseling, and nonconforming mortgage loan products. These home loans undergo custom underwriting, sometimes using alternative proof of credit, to ensure that the borrower can safely afford their home and have the opportunity to build wealth through home equity.
The City of Roanoke has contracted Freedom First to act as the financial counseling provider of Roanoke’s Financial Empowerment Center, the first of its kind in Virginia. Financial Empowerment Centers offer professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a no-cost public service to enable residents to address their financial challenges and needs and plan for their futures.
As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Freedom First is positioned to funnel secondary capital and other funding sources back into our community for even greater impact. Freedom First acquires outside funding, often from the national level, that is then brought into our region through initiatives that meet our community’s needs. This means that we are not only keeping our members’ money local, but we are also bringing new capital into our region for local benefit.
Installment or payday loans can be deceptively expensive. Customers are pushed by predatory lenders to renew their loans over and over again, which causes mountains of interest debt to accrue. According to Pew Research and The Economist, every 90 seconds, $67,000 in new payday loan debt is issued in the U.S. and roughly 2.5 million American households use payday loans each year, making it a $40 billion industry. That’s why Freedom First offers payday loan alternatives and debt consolidation options to our members.
For example, Freedom First’s Payday Relief and Flash Cash loans act as a tool for people who have already fallen into a cycle of mounting high-interest debt to pay off their loans at a more manageable interest rate, which in turn can give them the room they need to break out of the predatory lending cycle.
One way Freedom First gives back is by engaging in community redevelopment and rehabilitation projects, by providing capital to developers who invest in neighborhoods facing continued disinvestment. Freedom First’s commercial and business banking teams are an integral part of the organization’s mission to give back to the community. Every local business that we help by providing necessary capital often means more local jobs. Every commercial loan funded in a target reinvestment area means more economic vitality, which will in turn encourage more businesses to follow. It’s a ripple effect.