ACCESS Initiative

ACCESS: Advancing Communities Through Credit, Education, Stability, and Support

The ACCESS initiative seeks to foster financial inclusion and address the financial disparities experienced by minority, underserved, and unbanked populations. The initiative helps to develop policies and programs in support of financial inclusion within the NCUA and the credit union system by addressing the financial services, financial literacy, and employment needs of diverse, underserved, and unbanked communities.

Below are frequently asked questions related to community outreach and financial inclusion gathered from across the NCUA.

General ACCESS Questions

What is ACCESS?

The NCUA’s ACCESS initiative — Advancing Communities through Credit, Education, Stability, and Support — began as an inter-departmental initiative in 2020 to expand opportunities for greater access to savings, credit, and other financial services provided by credit unions.

Credit unions can play a key role in helping families achieve financial freedom by building generational wealth, assisting entrepreneurs to get their small businesses off the ground, and helping to create jobs and strengthen communities. The NCUA has a role to play in making sure that credit unions can support overlooked or underserved areas.

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What are ways the ACCESS initiative assists credit unions?

Through ACCESS, the NCUA provides resources to assist credit unions with their outreach strategies. These resources include educational webinars and the identification of grants and other financial sources to support the development and implementation of financial products and services to assist members experiencing financial hardship.

One example is the NCUA’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion & ACCESS Summit. This no-cost, two-and-a-half day, hybrid event brings together professionals from credit unions and other financial inclusion industries to promote the value of DEI, share financial inclusion best practices, and discuss solutions to industry-specific challenges.

The summit involves panel discussions with experts in finance, community outreach, community development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with fireside chats, roundtables, and keynote speakers. Session topics cover a wide range of outreach, financial inclusion, and DEI-related areas, including:

  • How to build a successful DEI program including programs for the LGBTQ+ and disability communities;
  • Cryptocurrency and the unbanked;
  • Digital access;
  • Increasing minority homeownership;
  • Minority targeted financial education; and
  • Inclusive lending.

For more information, please visit the 2022 webpage, DEI and ACCESS Summit 2022.

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How does the ACCESS initiative support communities?

The NCUA’s primary responsibility is to ensure the continued safety and soundness of the nation’s credit union system. Where appropriate, however, the agency encourages the credit union system and the broader financial services industry to support the communities and citizens they serve by providing greater economic and employment opportunities.

Second Chance Policy Initiative

In November 2019, the NCUA Board approved a final interpretive ruling and policy statement allowing people convicted of certain minor offenses to return to work in the credit union industry without applying for the Board’s approval before doing so.

The policy change expands the list of exceptions. Specifically, convictions or program entries for offenses involving insufficient funds checks of moderate value, small dollar simple theft, false identification, simple drug possession, and isolated minor offenses committed by covered persons as young adults will not require an application to the NCUA Board, helping to expand potential employment opportunities for more Americans.

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Credit

Can credit unions offer payday alternative loans to members?

Credit unions have a long history of helping members through difficult times. They can offer loans through a variety of products. Federal credit unions, specifically, may offer two types of payday alternative loans to members: PALs I and PALs II.

Under the PALs program, a borrower must be a member of the credit union for at least one month. A federal credit union can charge an application fee only in the amount needed to recoup the actual costs associated with processing the application, up to $20. PAL amounts can range from $200 to $1,000. The loan terms range from 1 to 6 months.

Payday Alternative Loans II (PALs II)

In September 2019, the NCUA adopted the Payday Alternative Loans II rule, which responds to marketplace demand for additional short-term, small-dollar loans options.

PALs II incorporates many of the structural features of the original PALs program which was designed to protect borrowers from predatory payday lending practices. Those features include a limitation on rollovers, a requirement that each PALs II loan must fully amortize over the life of the loan, and a limitation on the permissible fees that a federal credit union may charge a borrower related to a PALs II loan. A federal credit union would also have to structure each loan as closed-end consumer credit. New or modified features unique to PALs II loans include the loan amount, loan terms, membership requirements, number of loans, and a restriction on overdraft fees.

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What are credit scoring alternatives?

Alternative credit data includes information not typically found in consumers’ credit reports or customarily provided as part of applications for credit. Use of alternative data may improve the speed and accuracy of credit decisions and may help “evaluate the creditworthiness of consumers who currently may not have access to credit in the mainstream credit system.” For more information, please read the joint statement, Interagency Statement on the Use of Alternative Data in Credit Underwriting.

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Can credit unions use credit scoring alternatives for those without credit?

On December 3, 2019, the NCUA and four other federal financial regulatory agencies issued a joint statement on the use of alternative data that financial institutions and other financial firms use, or may use, in determining borrowers’ creditworthiness. For more information, please read the joint statement, Interagency Statement on the Use of Alternative Data in Credit Underwriting.

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Can a credit union provide loans to members who do not have a social security number and instead use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), the matricula consular identification card, or a state identification card?

The NCUA has indicated that it is permissible for a federal credit union to rely on individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) and the matricula consular identification cards or state identification cards to open a loan account. The NCUA also indicated that federal credit unions must be sure to identify and address any risks associated with these activities. For more information, please read NCUA Legal Opinion 03-0964 (December 2003).

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Financial Education

How can we share NCUA’s financial education resources with credit union staff?

The NCUA has developed a Financial Education Resource Guide for credit unions that lists and links to our most popular and recent materials. Include this guide in your newsletters, all staff emails, and on your websites to support and enhance your financial education programs.

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Do you have financial education resources we can put on our website or social media feed to share with our membership?

Yes, the NCUA provides financial literacy and education resources to support credit unions looking to help their members make smarter financial decisions.

  • Financial Resources—Resources you can use and share including brochures, infographics, and worksheets.
  • NCUA Consumer Tips—A series of short videos you can share that were created to address frequent money management misconceptions. Embed these short videos onto your website, digital newsletters, blogs, and email blasts. Also share these tips on social media to educate your network on practical financial facts.
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Does the NCUA have financial education tools for children?

Yes, the NCUA has created interactive financial learning tools for children.

  • World of Cents—An engaging tool for kids ages 5–10, designed to teach the value of money through basic financial concepts, including earning, saving and spending money, and basic math concepts. World of Cents is available on MyCreditUnion.gov.
  • Hit the Road—An online learning tool that helps teach young people ages 10–15 about the importance of saving and spending wisely. This game is available on MyCreditUnion.gov in English and Spanish.
  • Money 101 Quiz—Take the Money 101 online quiz to see how well you know the faces on dollars and coins.
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Do you have resources addressing the fraud risks for older Americans?

Yes, the NCUA has a video highlighting financial exploitation of older adults and the agency offers resources to help prevent elder financial abuse, including a one page flyer to help credit union staff spot and report possible elder financial abuse and recognize financial scams specifically targeting older people.

In 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Older Americans joined with the NCUA’s Division of Consumer Affairs to host a webinar for credit unions. Participants received an overview of elder financial exploitation, resources to inform prevention, and tools to report abuse. To view the webinar, visit this YouTube page, How Credit Unions Can Protect Older Americans Against Exploitation.

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How can our credit union better serve the disabled community?

Credit unions can serve the disabled community by informing them about resources like Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, accounts. The NCUA developed an easy-to-read graphic that credit unions share online and in-person to help their members learn the basics. Find it here.

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Do you have military support resources we can use?

Yes, visit the Financial Well-Being of Servicemembers & Their Families section on MyCreditUnion.gov for financial resources and special protections for servicemembers and their dependents.

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How is the NCUA expanding access to financial education?

Under the Federal Credit Union Act, promoting financial literacy is a core credit union mission. While credit unions serve the needs of their members and promote financial literacy within the communities they serve, NCUA works to reinforce credit union efforts, raise consumer awareness, and increase access to credit union services. The NCUA also participates in national financial literacy initiatives, including the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, an interagency group created by Congress to improve the nation’s financial literacy and education.

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Credit Union Support Programs

Can people still start new credit unions?

Yes!

A federally chartered credit union is a great way to create access to affordable financial services to people where you work or worship, members of an association where you belong, or people in your community.

At the beginning of the chartering application process, organizers discuss the need for a credit union and consider these four questions:

  • What is the purpose and core values of the proposed credit union?
  • Who do you want to serve (your field of membership)?
  • Do you have adequate capital?
  • Do you have a team of people to help the credit union start (also known as subscribers)?

For more information, please visit the page, Starting a New Federal Credit Union.

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What is a low income designated credit union?

To qualify as a low-income credit union, a majority of the credit union’s membership (50.01 percent) must meet certain low-income thresholds, based on data from the Census Bureau requirements are outlined in the NCUA’s Rules and Regulations.

All federally insured credit unions that meet the eligibility criteria can receive the low-income designation. However, some state-chartered credit unions may not be afforded all of the designation’s benefits. State-charter credit unions should contact their state supervisory authority to determine their low-income designation criteria and benefits.

For assistance in determining whether your credit union qualifies for a low-income designation, contact the NCUA’s Office of Credit Union Resources and Expansion at DCAMail@ncua.gov or 703.518.1150.

For more information, please visit the page, Low-Income Designation.

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What are the benefits of the having a low-income designation?

Credit unions designated low-income are afforded certain benefits not available to other credit unions, including:

  • An exception from the statutory cap on member business lending, which expands access to capital for small businesses and helps credit unions to diversity portfolios;
  • Eligibility for grants and low-interest loans from the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund;
  • Ability to accept non-member deposits from any source; and
  • Authority to obtain supplemental capital.

For assistance in determining whether your credit union qualifies for a low-income designation, contact the NCUA’s Office of Credit Union Resources and Expansion at DCAMail@ncua.gov or 703.518.1150.

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What is a minority deposit institution (MDI)?

The NCUA defines a minority depository institution as a federally insured credit union in which a majority of its current members, its board of directors, and the community it services, as designated in its charter, fall within any of the eligible minority groups as described in Section 308 of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989: any Black American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Native American.

For more information on MDIs, and how credit unions can determine whether they qualify for MDI certification, please visit the page, Minority Depository Institution Preservation.

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What kind of support do MDIs receive from the NCUA?

Through NCUA’s Minority Depository Institutions Preservation Program.

The Program supports MDIs in several ways that in turn support the NCUA’s mission of ensuring a safe, sound, and sustainable credit union system.

  • Training through the Learning Management Service, which includes a section specific to MDIs;
  • For MDIs also designated as low-income credit unions, access to grants and loans, including mentoring grants;
  • The Small Credit Union and Minority Depository Institution Support Program. Under this program, NCUA exam staff may provide assistance that would normally not be a part of the regular exam process, including creating succession plans, developing marketing plans, and evaluating earnings and the relationship to loan and deposits;
  • Periodic conference calls that address MDI-specific topics and include opportunities for feedback from subject-matter experts; and
  • Information and announcements of opportunities available through other federal agencies and nonprofits.
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Does the NCUA offer grants?

Yes, through the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund (CDRLF). The CDRLF provides funding to help low-income-designated credit unions provide affordable financial services to their members to stimulate economic activities in their communities. The NCUA administers the CDRLF, which is funded by congressional appropriations. The NCUA makes technical assistance grants to eligible credit unions for a variety of initiatives approved by the NCUA Board.

Grant requirements, application instructions, and other important information are available on the NCUA Grant page. Grant applications must be submitted online through the NCUA’s CyberGrants portal. Credit unions with additional questions about CDRLF grants may contact the NCUA’s Office of Credit Union Resources and Expansion at CUREAPPS@ncua.gov.

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How can grant funds be used?

If you are a low-income designated credit union there are grants for a variety of initiatives. Before each grant round the NCUA determines what initiatives to offer credit unions. These initiatives assist credit unions in their growth and outreach efforts. For more information and examples from the 2022 grant cycle, please read, 2022 Community Development Revolving Loan Fund Grant Round Application Guidelines.

In addition, if you have are a low-income designated credit union, and need financial support to help respond to an unexpected emergency, or if you are a newly chartered credit union and need funds to pay for certain activities you may be eligible for an Urgent Need grant. For more information on the parameters for this grant, please view the instruction, Urgent Need Grant Initiative Guidelines.

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What other funding resources are available for federal credit unions?

The webinar provided overview of 2022 funding available from two federal government agencies, the NCUA and the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. The NCUA presented the 2022 grant initiatives of the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund. The CDFI Fund will detailed its Small Dollar Loan Program and highlighted other funding programs of interest.

To view the archived webinar, please visit this YouTube page, Federal Funding Resources for MDIs and Other Credit Unions.”

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Does the NCUA offer resources to help credit unions foster diversity and inclusion internally?

Yes, the NCUA encourages credit unions to promote diversity and inclusion as a competitive advantage for their organizations. Doing so can inform business strategies that unleash employee potential, attract talent to develop innovative solutions to leverage business opportunities, and help you identify and meet the needs of underserved markets.

To support credit unions’ efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, the NCUA designed a self-assessment material in coordination with other federal financial regulators. The assessment helps credit unions evaluate their practices against five core standards:

  1. Organization commitment to diversity and inclusion
  2. Workforce profile and employment practices
  3. Supplier diversity
  4. Practices to promote transparency
  5. Approach to self-assessment

The assessment outlines best practices in diversity and inclusion that you can use at any stage of your institution’s journey. For more information and to download the assessment, please visit NCUA’s page, Credit Union Diversity Self-Assessment.

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Community Outreach

How can we better reach the underserved market?

To promote greater financial inclusion and strengthen communities, the NCUA encourages credit unions to expand their service to underserved areas. Any federal credit union with a multiple common bond field of membership may include in its field of membership, without regard to location, underserved communities as defined by the Federal Credit Union Act.

Expanding into underserved areas can also help diversify membership and increase a credit union’s lending opportunities. Adding an underserved area to a federal credit union’s field of membership does not change the nature of a credit union’s charter. A multiple common bond federal credit union may add additional groups under the NCUA’s multiple common bond expansion options after being approved to expand service to an underserved area.

For more information read Letter to Federal Credit Unions, 21-FCU-03, Underserved Area Expansions and visit Serving the Underserved.

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What are ways we can partner with other community-based organizations?

One way is to participate in the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. For more than 50 years, the VITA program has offered free income tax assistance in-person or through assisted, self-help options.

The program provides education for consumers on refundable credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). These refundable federal tax credits can provide thousands of dollars to working individuals and families with low to moderate incomes.

Benefits of participating in the VITA program and boosting awareness of refundable tax credits include:

  • Potential to attract new members,
  • Asset and wealth building opportunities for members,
  • Greater financial education and financial stability among members,
  • Opportunities to partner with other community-based organizations,
  • Increased membership benefit offerings and potential increased membership loyalty,
  • Continuing professional education credits for qualified VITA-trained volunteers, and
  • Free income tax preparation software or online access for credit unions and their members.

Interested credit unions should email the IRS at partner@irs.gov.

For more information, please read Letter to Credit Unions, 21-CU-12 November 2021 Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program Collaboration.

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Last modified on
10/27/22