While many look forward to a new year and a fresh start, this time of year can understandably bring heightened financial stress and challenges, especially after a period of increased spending during the holiday season.
The good news is UCU has Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors who can help ease your stress with a free, confidential appointment to evaluate your financial situation, answer your questions, and help you create a plan to achieve your financial goals. Wherever you are and however you choose to visit UCU online or in-person, our Certified Financial Counselors (CCUFCs) are here for U.
Meet Amanda Allen and Maddy Gray! Amanda and Maddy are longtime UCU employees and part of our Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor team. Amanda is the branch manager at UCU’s 15 Main Street location in Orono and has been with UCU for 17 years. Maddy is the branch manager at UCU’s Forest Avenue location in Portland and has been with UCU for 13 years. Both are branch managers who bring many years of experience and expertise in all things personal finance.
Amanda and Maddy both received their certification in 2021 through the Credit Union National Association’s Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP). We caught up with Amanda and Maddy about their journey to becoming Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors and what this means for our members.
When did you become a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor?
Amanda: In 2021, I set a personal goal to become a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor. The journey was quite extensive, involving a thorough study of a substantial textbook and a 100-question proctored exam. Despite the challenges, I found the process enjoyable as I immersed myself in the material, and to my relief, I passed the exam successfully!
Maddy: Like Amanda, the process to become a CCUFC was lengthy and challenging. My journey into this certification began with a natural inclination to assist members when they sought financial guidance. When UCU initiated the CCUFC course for staff, I was immediately interested. Eventually I got the opportunity to take the course and became UCU’s first branch manager to earn this certification.
What can members expect from a financial counseling session?
Amanda: I always like to begin by asking about the members’ expectations when they arrive for an appointment. Often, members simply need a compassionate listener who can address their questions and provide a sense of empowerment. This is the most rewarding aspect of my role and I strive to ensure that every member leaves with a positive experience. We fully recognize that discussing financial matters can be uncomfortable, so our service offers members a safe space to ask questions without judgement and connects members with the right people.
Maddy: Typically, these sessions run for about an hour, though the duration may vary depending on the topic. When members come to the session, I ask them to provide a general overview of their income, expenses, and debts allowing us to identify areas where adjustments can be made in alignment with their goals. Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors can assist in areas such as budgeting, credit score improvement, debt management, suggestions on working towards long term goals, and tips to improving financial situations.
Are there any areas or subjects that you are personally passionate about?
Amanda: If were to pinpoint a specific area or subject, it would be centered around financial education, fraud prevention, and credit scores. Over my career, I’ve had experience in many different areas which has significantly elevated my knowledge, especially after becoming a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor. Now that members can book appointments with CCUFCs, I’m more passionate than ever.
Maddy: The area I talk about more than anything is personal budgeting. Often members bring in budgets that maybe aren’t working for them, and together we are able to find the gaps – it could be an expense they hadn’t considered, or even assets they did not realize they owned. I remember one time; I helped a member realize that they had more assets than they realized and were closer to their financial goals than they thought.
Are there common questions or misconceptions you’ve seen through your financial counseling?
Amanda: In my experience, one common misconception revolves around the belief that checking accounts and debit cards have a direct impact on one’s credit score. It’s a topic that frequently arises in almost every appointment. Many individuals don’t realize that credit scores are essential not only for traditional credit but also for securing services such as cell phone plans and utilities.
Maddy: Most questions I receive tend to center on the fundamentals of managing their accounts, particularly focusing on cash flow, income, and expenditures. Sometimes, members come in with a budget already laid out, and I can identify additional expenses they might not have considered, leading to inquiries about other aspects of their financial situation. There have been instances where members initially sought assistance for a specific need, but through our discussions, it became evident that a comprehensive appointment with a CCUFC like me could greatly benefit them. In one such case, I was able to provide valuable guidance on how to navigate a significant upcoming expense, and the member discovered a solution they hadn’t previously known was possible.
How often are you doing financial counseling sessions?
Amanda: I am engaged in financial counseling sessions quite regularly. I meet with some members multiple times, while others simply walk-in to our branch and initiate a conversation on the spot. I can recall in one instance a member walked in and asked a question about credit scores, leading to an extensive conversation. By the end, they left with a newfound confidence in their understanding of credit scores. On another occasion, a couple sought answers to their financial queries, and we were able to set them up with a loan solution tailored to their unique needs. Additionally, a member once approached me about thrift savings account and long-term financial planning, and I was able to connect them to our wealth management team.
Maddy: Most appointments mostly come in through our website. However, some members who come in for routine transactions may have questions that subsequently lead to appointments with me.
What do you wish more members knew about UCU?
Amanda: We offer a wide range of services! While the term counselor may suggest something is amiss, a financial checkup isn’t always a daunting experience. I’ve seen members who have developed their own approaches to personal finance that work for them, and just want affirmation.
Maddy: UCU membership is available to anyone living and working in Maine, not just those affiliated with the University system!
Ready to meet with our Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors?
Book an appointment through the UCU website at ucumaine.com/ccufc. There, you have an option to select a local branch and indicate your preferences. We are set up for in-person and virtual meetings to accommodate members wherever you are in Maine. Appointments are preferred as they help us make sure we can devote the time and attention you deserve.