WASHINGTON — The FINRA Investor Education Foundation (FINRA Foundation) and the Filene Research Institute (Filene) today announced the availability of free resources to help credit unions and employers with turn-key start-up of a small-dollar loan program designed to help workers avoid the high cost of alternative borrowing, establish or repair credit, and begin to save.

The Employer-Sponsored Small-Dollar Loan (ESSDL) feasibility study, implementation guide, and customizable marketing materials are available for download at Filene.org/ESSDL.

“The right small-dollar loan can make a big difference,” said Gerri Walsh, President of the FINRA Foundation. “More and more, we understand the crucial role of employers in helping employees make sound choices for themselves and their families, and access to safe, affordable, and supportive products and services is an important part of the equation.”

“These resources reflect key insights derived from an 18-month market test among 13 financial institutions and 48 employers,” said George Hofheimer, Chief Knowledge Officer at Filene. “We are thrilled to partner with the FINRA Foundation to make these materials widely available to financial institutions, employers and other organizations working together to help improve the financial security of hardworking employees.”

Employer-Sponsored Small-Dollar Loans are made available to employees of participating companies, at no cost to the employer, based on the length of employment in good standing (determined by the credit union) but not on credit scores. The application process is simple, and the money is often available on the same day it is requested. Loans are repaid through payroll deduction, and successful repayment is reported to credit bureaus. After the loan is repaid, a deduction in the amount of the loan repayment continues on an opt-out basis and is deposited into the employee’s savings account.

The FINRA Foundation’s 2015 National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) suggests that more than half (52 percent) of American households have at least some difficulty keeping up with monthly expenses, and over a quarter of all households (26 percent) have turned to high cost alternative borrowing methods, such as an auto title loan or a payday loan, to help them make ends meet within the last five years. And according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Financial Wellness at Work report, 80 percent of workers say worries about financial problems have affected their productivity, while 40 percent say they want help from their employer in achieving financial security.

“Participating in the ESSDL program has been a very positive experience for both our credit union and our members,” said Cheryl Dorman, CEO of Mercy Health Partners Federal Credit Union in Toledo, Ohio. “The ESSDL is a highly valued, low-cost employee benefit that has given us an opportunity to further strengthen an already strong partnership with our sponsoring health system.”

The ESSDL program was designed by NorthCountry Federal Credit Union, in cooperation with a local employer group convened by the United Way of Northwest Vermont, to develop workplace supports to improve employee productivity, retention, advancement and financial stability. A two-year pilot test of the loan, conducted by the Filene Research Institute Accessible Financial Services Incubator with support from the Ford Foundation, confirmed that the loan is feasible, scalable and meets important needs for employers and low- and moderate-income employees.

President and CEO of Rhino Foods, Ted Castle, said his Burlington, Vermont-based company was among the first to pilot the ESSDL program.

“It’s one thing to hang a sign on the wall saying ‘our employees are our most valuable asset,’ but it’s another to prove it by helping to solve their problems,” said Castle, who oversees more than 140 employees who manufacture cookie dough and other inclusions for premium ice cream. “Making this loan available is a way of letting employees know we respect and value them. And it works.”

“Rhino employees are using the loan, attending our financial literacy classes and creating better lives for themselves and their families,” Castle added. “At the same time, Rhino’s retention rate has increased 24 percent.”

To view a brief video about how the loan (branded locally as the Income Advance Loan) helped one Rhino employee, visit www.rhinofoods.com/rhino-foods-income-advance-program.

FINRA Investor Education Foundation
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation supports innovative and educational projects that give underserved Americans the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for financial success throughout life. For details about other FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit www.finrafoundation.org.

Filene Research Institute
The Filene Research Institute is an independent, consumer finance think and do tank dedicated to scientific and thoughtful analysis about issues affecting the future of credit unions, retail banking and cooperative finance. Founded over 25 years ago, Filene is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For more information visit www.filene.org and @fileneresearch.

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