The C.O. Federal Credit Union in Charleston is the region’s only financial institution established and operated by Blacks. Retired AME Church pastor Rev. Ed McClain says if Black churches in the region support it as they do others, the Black community would have an institution that could address its financial needs.
For security reasons, the credit union located at 117 Spring St. in downtown Charleston doesn’t keep a lot of cash on hand, so they don’t cash a lot of checks. But for a small membership fee of $5 the credit union provides just about every other financial service. It’s slogan is “Not for profit, not for charity, but for service”.
After 42 years despite relatively low interest rates and a willingness to take risks on loans many other lending institutions won’t, the credit union remains an untapped resource the Black community can ill afford to waste. McClain said the Black community has been given the answer to many of its financial issues. C.O. Federal Credit Union represents an opportunity to create an avenue to address those issues, he said. There literally are thousands of Black churches in the metropolitan Charleston area. If only more would become members of the credit union it could be unmatched as a financial resource, he said.
“On Monday mornings we invest our money in institutions that won’t lend us our own money. Black restaurants are a parallel. We patronize everybody else’s restaurants, but they don’t patronize ours. On Sundays, you can’t get into Golden Corral or Ryan’s because of us. And although we are the most patrons of Chinese restaurants, we can’t even get a job at one,” McClain said. “We don’t carve out niches. We become followers of the norm.”
C.O. Federal Credit Union Board of Directors President Robert Smalls said getting Blacks to join the credit union has been a challenge since its establishment in 1970. The late civil rights activist Esau Jenkins founded the credit union to make low interest loans available to African Americans who often were denied service at major financial institutions. Because many blacks lack financial education its membership isn’t reflective of the local African American population.
But that’s not because the credit union doesn’t represent a viable financial alternative, he said. With over $2 million in assets, the credit union offers competitive resources to the Black community and its churches, Smalls said.
In addition to providing savings accounts, personal loans of up to $5,000 and auto loans of up to $30,000, the credit union’s most valuable service is information. For $10 the credit union can pull a credit report and help people find out what’s on their report or how they can clean up their credit. The credit union also conducts financial workshops. It has upgraded its technology systems, but without strong support from the community, Black churches and businesses especially, growth will continue to be slow.
Echoing McClain Smalls said, “Our churches deposit their money into banks on Monday which are used for commercial loans, but their members can’t borrow their own money. Through our secured loan program members can make personal loans at an eight percent interest rate that is secured by their church’s deposits.
“We serve people many other financial institutions don’t want to serve,” said Smalls. “Our loan policies are less stringent than most banks or those of finance companies and our interest rates are lower,” he noted.
For information about the credit union’s services call Claudette Smith at 722-7656 or visit the credit union’s office at 117 Spring St. at the corner of Rutledge Avenue. The credit union is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.