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CUESNet Q&A: Citizenship Loans and More

passport USA flag
Winona Nava, ICUDE Photo
President/CEO
Guadalupe Credit Union

3 minutes

Guadalupe CU builds trust with the immigrant community by consistently demonstrating the organization’s desire to see them succeed.

Recently on CUESNet, a CUES member asked:

Is anyone currently offering citizenship loans to members who are in the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens and need financial assistance with the approximately $1,000 in fees? If so, would you be kind enough to share underwriting details, rates, fees, popularity, performance, etc.?

At $238 million Guadalupe Credit Union, Santa Fe, a member of the National Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals, our community partners, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, and Santa Fe Dreamers Project refer people who might be interested in and benefit from taking a loan under our citizenship program.

Through this program, Guadalupe CU makes loans with an interest rate of 10% to help cover the costs associated with going through the naturalization process. Loans of up to $1,000 per applicant are available without regard to Guadalupe CU’s unsecured limits. 

If the requested loan amount exceeds $1,000, we use our normal guidelines or refer the member to a financial coach. If a member’s debt-to-income ratio is over 50%, we also refer them to a financial coach. The financial coaches we use to support members interested in this program have immigrant family members and can let our potential borrowers know how important it is to make sure they can afford to repay these loans.  

The maximum volume allocated for the program is $4 million (4,000 eligible borrowers x $1,000 maximum loan amounts). Of course, community development financial institution grants help with the allowance for loan loss side; however, we typically don’t have losses on these loans if the borrowers really want citizenship, as not repaying the loan can kill their chance to become a citizen. Getting referrals from our community partners also helps to keep this program in good standing.

Building Trust

We are a trusted resource for our immigrant community and have built that trust over time. We work with local partners to provide a safe place for our members to ask questions and learn about the process of applying for citizenship. From our Chief of Financial Empowerment, Diane Sandoval-Griego, who is also a CUES member, comes this list of additional initiatives that are helping us serve our members and build their trust and loyalty:

  • Offering access to affordable and safe credit options
  • Making referrals for legal aid or advice from immigration attorneys 
  • Offering financial coaching, which can help members plan for the large expense of paying for the citizenship process, especially when it involves many family members
  • Hosting Juntos Avanzamos events that bring in such community partners as the Mexican Consulate and Santa Fe Dreamer’s Project to share information about the immigration process and provide assistance with it
  • Offering financial education classes, videos, website and marketing materials in Spanish, which feels like home and like they are understood
  • Sharing personal experience, since some staff have gone through the citizenship process, truly delivering on the credit union philosophy of being people helping people
  • Helping members build credit so that they can obtain loans for homes, mobile homes and autos at affordable rates and terms
  • Providing small-dollar loans for emergencies and other needs 
  • Working with those who get paid in cash
  • Accepting different forms of IDs and opening what our members routinely call “safe accounts.” These non-interest accounts give people in the community who don’t have an Individual Tax Payer Identification Number or Social Security number a much safer place to keep money than under a mattress.

These services provide for our members’ safety and health as well as keeping loved ones together. Our immigrant community shares information about who can be trusted, and we receive a lot of referrals for our services. They know we are a safe place to bank, and they can be honest with us when they need help. We look out for them. If we see them being taken advantage of financially by others, we inform them of their options and alternatives. Loyalty is built because they know we want to see them succeed. 

CUES member Winona Nava, ICUDE, is president/CEO of $238 million Guadalupe Credit Union, Santa Fe.

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