In a Nutshell: Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union prides itself on providing fair and affordable financial services to its community. As a Community Development Financial Institution, the credit union is committed to giving underbanked and underserved communities access to financial services. Brooklyn Coop gives its members flexibility to access financial services with a low minimum balance requirement and low monthly checking account fees. Members who need to build credit can sign up for a secured loan. A security deposit is required when signing up for the secured loan. A security deposit is required when signing up for the secured card. The credit union’s partnership with Grow Brooklyn gives members guidance when filing taxes and assistance when facing foreclosure.
The Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick neighborhoods of Central Brooklyn, where Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union has branches, is home to almost 300,000 people. More than 95% of residents are minorities representing African American, Caribbean American, and Hispanic backgrounds.
The credit union’s mission is to provide the resources that help all of the people it serves to build wealth. Anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or has family in the neighborhood can sign up for an account.
Brooklyn Coop is flexible in the documents it requires for someone to open an account. The credit union doesn’t consider an applicant’s immigration status, accepting IDNYC to open an account, and using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers in place of a Social Security card.
Brooklyn Coop has grown substantially since it first opened its doors in 2001. The credit union has gone from having $300,000 in assets in its first year to $50 million in assets and 7,000 members today.
Members never have to worry about not receiving help quickly, with a core group of employees ready to help six days a week. Calls do not get forwarded to a call center. When members call, they talk to the people who live in their community and are uniquely qualified to assist.
Because it is a credit union, Brooklyn Coop doesn’t take the gains it receives to line the pockets of CEOs or shareholders. All of the money is funneled right back into the community as accessible and affordable loans or other services.
“The deposits members make here are reinvested into loans that are given to people in the community,” Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union Director of Lending Daniel Gonzalez said. “We reinvest everything into the corner deli or your favorite restaurant that you go to every month, whereas, with the big banks, you don’t know where the money’s going.”
Giving a Local Feel to Modern Banking
As is true of many financial institutions over the past two years, Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union made technology upgrades to continue smooth banking operations during the pandemic.
Members access the credit union’s services and resources online and use electronic signature technology to complete transactions without going into a branch.
The credit union gives members the option of opening or closing accounts remotely to provide flexibility with the new upgrades.
Brooklyn Coop distinguishes itself as one of the borough’s top business lenders because of how they treat applications. Every application that comes through is treated with respect and given personal attention.
It doesn’t matter to Brooklyn Federal Credit Union if a business is well-established or just starting. The credit union is looking to support local businesses with all kinds of business expenses.
Brooklyn Coop offers clients flexibility in how they repay loans. If a loan is too big to finance, the credit union connects businesses with other lenders who can help.
New to Brooklyn Coop is its business mentorship role. The business mentor’s function is to communicate with local businesses and connect business owners with services to help keep the lights on.
“There is a business mentorship program here that we started in the past few months,” Gonzalez said. “Our business mentor Warren Goodridge goes out to find businesses and works to get them signed up for services we provide that will help them.”
Creating Tools to Produce Good Financial Decisions
Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union’s credit cards are flexible and work for whatever a member needs.
Members who need to transfer a balance from an external debt source can put it into the credit union’s low introductory rate credit card to save on interest payments. Interest rates also do not increase if payments are made late.
The credit limit on a credit card from Brooklyn Coop varies between $500 and $10,000 and only has a $40 annual fee.
The credit union also has secured credit cards that can help members rebuild their credit. The secured cards work by freezing at least $500 in a member’s savings account. A member’s credit limit then becomes the amount frozen in the account. (The minimum credit score for any credit card is 650.)
The initial deposit becomes unfrozen once all payments are complete. This card offers a lower interest rate than traditional credit cards.
Brooklyn Coop’s unique youth accounts are for teens 16 or 17 years of age.
The accounts, which do not need to be opened or co-signed with a parent or guardian, help teens save money while in high school. The teen accounts have overdraft protection and no monthly fees for two years.
Credit builder loans are also available and do just as its name suggests — help members build credit. These loans allow members to make scheduled, monthly payments that show up on credit reports as on-time payments.
Members who pay off the loan will have a higher credit score and the loan amount available in their account as savings.
Secured loans through Brooklyn Coop work similarly but use frozen funds in a savings account and offer lower interest rates. Whatever a member needs, the credit union will work to find the perfect match.
“Because we’re a small credit union, it’s the same 12 or 14 people looking at your banking history or your loan history,” Gonzalez said. “We know what’s going on with your bank account, and we find ways to solve problems.”
Using Resources to Offer Better Products and Services
While loans and assistance were available to those who needed it most during the pandemic, many in Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union’s area did not take advantage.
Brooklyn Coop told us many of the neighborhoods around the credit union’s branches have a high minority population who are also underbanked. That’s why small business owners who needed help during the pandemic never signed up for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
The credit union worked to solve that issue and actively sought out those businesses. In total, Brooklyn Coop said it provided nearly $6 million in PPP loans to the community in 2021.
Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union gave 47% of the loans to minorities, and 45% of the businesses financed were minority-owned businesses. Those numbers are a significant accomplishment for the credit union, whose obligation is to invest financial gains back to its members.
The credit union offers classes that help guide community members to buy their first home, with first-time homebuyer certification also available.
Its financial counseling services and credit review are free to members through the Brooklyn Coop’s partnership with Grow Brooklyn. Members who need help filing taxes can use Grow Brooklyn’s tax preparation service, as well.
Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union has no plans to slow down or cut the resources it offers. The credit union’s main branch is under renovation and will reopen soon, and a third branch is on the way to help more people within its neighborhoods.