121 Financial Credit Union’s short-term holiday loan helps members prepare for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. But the credit union doesn’t stop there. Its year-round member discount program and six-month, 0% introductory rate on credit cards helps members before, during, and after the holiday season. According to Search & Analyze data on CreditUnions.com, as of September 30, 2013, the $432 million credit union headquartered in Jacksonville, FL, had a credit card penetration rate of 27.00% compared to 13.75% and 17.96% for its asset-based and state peers.
In this Q&A, Cindy Breslin, vice president of marketing for 121 Financial Credit Union, discusses the credit union’s offerings in more detail.
How long has the credit union been offering holiday loans to members?
Cindy Breslin: We’ve been offering holiday loans for about four years now. This year we’ve made a change due to requests from members and the changing economy. We have increased the dollar amount of the loans. The holiday loan is designed to be paid off by the next year, so when we began the program the dollar amount ranged from $500 to $2500. Now we’ve increased it to a maximum of $3500 and have given members the option of extending the loan repayment over two years.
What is the typical timeframe the holiday loan is available? Have you started offering it earlier in the year?
CB: We’ve started offering the loan in mid-October for members who like to do early bird shopping and we usually continue it into January. Once the New Year hits, we promote it primarily as a way to pay off holiday expenses that members incurred on a higher-rate credit card.
Is it a fixed-rate loan product?
CB: Yes, it is a fixed rate. Currently, the rate is 8.00% if you repay the loan over a 12-month term. However, if you take advantage of the higher amount and choose to extend payments over two years, the rate increases to 8.75%. This is still clearly a better deal for many members than carrying holiday purchases on higher-rate credit cards.
Do most members take advantage of the loan around Black Friday?
CB: Actually, this year we had several dozen members take advantage of the loan in October. The usage is typically spread out throughout the season based on members’ individual shopping habits. We see applications come in over the full timeframe that we offer the loan from October through January.
Are there other holiday promotions or specials you offer members?
CB: Yes, in addition to the holiday loan we’re also offering a 0% introductory rate on our credit card for six months. We promote this heavily around the holidays and even more so after the beginning of the year so members can transfer balances from higher-rate cards.
Another program we offer is called Benefits Plus. This is a year-round membership program that includes a number of valuable discounts in addition to identity theft protection. During the holiday season the program is popular because it allows members to purchase gift cards at a discount. There are also 12 days of special one-day-only deals we promote to members via email. The deals can be found on our website and we offer them on various days during the peak of the holiday shopping season from Nov. 20 through Dec. 16.
Some of the one-day-only deals include dinner and a movie discounts, restaurant certificates, hotel discounts, ski packages, and additional savings on specific gift cards.
Is there a cost to the member to participate in this discount program?
CB: Members can try the program for free for 90 days. If they decide to keep it after the free trial, they pay a monthly fee of $4.50 to $6.00 depending on what type of checking account they have. This is a good value as the identity theft protection alone can cost more than that and there are a number of other benefits and discounts.
The program also offers purchase protection, which can come in handy over the holidays. In fact, we had one member who finished their Christmas shopping and had all of their bags locked up in their vehicle. The vehicle was broken into and all of the presents they purchased were stolen. Luckily, the member hung on to their receipts and were reimbursed for everything through the program.