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Saturday, April 20, 2024

First Capital Federal Credit Union Celebrates 70 Years of Service to Members and the Community

First Capital Fcu Exemplifies Member And Community Service
Mike Senecal

Written by: Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal
Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal draws on more than 20 years of editorial experience to update CardRates.com readers on industry trends, business news, and best practices in budgeting and credit use. Mike has worked for decades in academic and trade publishing, including roles as managing editor and technical editor at the University of Florida and as contributor to finance industry publications, including Surety Bond Quarterly and Independent Agent, among others. Mike holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina, and he enjoys bringing his years of academic and industry expertise online to help consumers of diverse financial backgrounds.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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In a Nutshell: Seventy years is a long time in any industry, but in financial services, it’s astronomical. Yet that’s how long First Capital Federal Credit Union has served members and communities in York County, Pennsylvania. After decades of change and expansion, today’s First Capital strives to produce positive financial outcomes for all members while remaining dedicated to financial education and charitable giving. It can almost seem like David versus Goliath when smaller credit unions like First Capital go up against the big banks. But First Capital exceeds expectations by taking a practical approach.

Many credit unions start as employee-based member cooperatives. Back in the day, workers at a company would pool a few dollars to accomplish what the big banks in their area couldn’t. Waves of US credit unions came into being that way before and immediately after World War II.

Founded in 1954, First Capital Federal Credit Union is one of those institutions. But First Capital is interesting not just for how it started but because it’s still around to tell its story. At 70 years old, First Capital thrives as an employee-based cooperative representing some 750 businesses in the York County area of Pennsylvania.

The team must be doing something right.

Senior Vice President of Marketing Tara Houser Minetos told us First Capital started as the S. Morgan Smith Credit Union. S. Morgan Smith was a turbine manufacturer based in York that another manufacturer acquired a few years after the credit union formed.

First Capital FCU logo

The cooperative grew over the years partly by absorbing smaller institutions, many with similar origins in manufacturing industries. It received its current name in 1986 and a federal charter in 1993.

But growth happened for other reasons, too. Now more than 20,000 members strong and still representing businesses mainly in York County, First Capital is a credit union continually reinventing itself. It does that with credit cards that meet member needs across the financial spectrum, credit-building loans, competitive checking products, a solid financial education presence in county schools, and robust community giving.

The team prides itself on meeting members at all stages of their financial journey, ensuring people from all walks of life have the products and skills to move forward financially.

“We figure there’s plenty of people here in our county,” Houser Minetos said. “We help our members keep their money here in York, and we do that by supporting the people in our community.”

Products Help Members Reach Their Goals

That exemplifies the credit union ethos of people helping people. First Capital leaves no stone unturned to build creative solutions that keep members coming back and attract new preferred business partners.

Creativity abounds in First Capital’s credit card program, which succeeds in offering something for everyone without overcomplicating matters. First Capital keeps things simple while continually refreshing its approach to benefit members.

On the personal side, First Capital offers a points-driven VISA Signature Rewards card for folks who enjoy earning rewards and don’t plan to carry a significant balance. Users may redeem points for merchandise, gift cards, travel, cash back, and other perks.

Tara Houser
Tara Houser Minetos is Senior Vice President of Marketing at First Capital.

Next in the lineup is the VISA Platinum, which aims at users looking for the lowest interest rate. The VISA Signature Rewards and VISA Platinum cards require no annual or balance transfer fees.

For members looking to build credit or rebuild after a setback, First Capital offers the collateral-based VISA Secured card. In a surprisingly short time, secured cardholders can establish or boost their credit score through small but steady on-time payments.

First Capital also offers credit builder loans as low as $100 to help members without funds established for collateral.

First Capital also offers reward checking and automatic savings products from its partner, Kasasa. Kasasa checking products are free, and some carry rewards and cash back. Another product, Free Kasasa Saver, links to Kasasa checking products to automatically funnel checking-side earnings back to savings.

“I’m not seeing it in my checking account, so I’m not tempted to use it,” Houser Minetos said. “It becomes this pot of money you’re really not looking at or factoring into your day-to-day living expenses.”

Financial Education Includes an In-School Branch

Houser Minetos leads the First Capital team responsible for financial education, an area of credit union activity near and dear to her heart. In an era when more Americans fall short of the knowledge and skills to navigate money challenges, First Capital reaches out to community members from school to retirement age, meeting them where they are with information they can use.

Based on the maxim that the earlier you learn a lesson, the better, First Capital provides financial education to schools in many ways. Pennsylvania is a state where a mandate to require financial education in public schools seems on the horizon, and York County teachers are reaching out for help.

“Teachers are already saying, hey, we see this is coming. We need help. What can you do?” Houser Minetos said.

One thing the credit union does is show up in class with lessons on everything from the basics of check writing to the difference between a credit union and a bank.

Eagles Nest
Kayla Decker is the School Branch Coordinator at Dover Area High School’s Eagles Nest, First Capital’s in-school branch.

First Capital also invites students to visit its main branch to tour the facility, learn about the various job roles that help the organization function, and look at the vault and other technology.

“It’s a really good educational opportunity for them,” Houser Minetos said.

First Capital operates five branches in York County, but only four are standalone. The other is Eagles Nest, located in Dover Area High School, one of several high schools in the county.

A Student ambassador works with credit union staff at Eagles Nest to advocate for financial education among her peers. At Dover, team members participate in in-service days and classroom presentations to instill lessons of financial responsibility in the newest generation of financial consumers.

Halloween 2023 provided a unique opportunity to make an impression. First Capital created an “ATTM,” an automatic trick-or-treat machine, that dispensed candy like actual ATMs dispense cash.

“It was a cute way of tying in who we are to what we do and making it fun for Halloween,” Houser Minetos said.

Working With Businesses and Helping Locals Thrive

First Capital is also frequently out and about in the community offering adult education seminars to preferred business partner employees and other groups. It’s a full-time job to live up to the responsibility of the credit union ethos, one that Houser Minetos and her team do not take lightly.

A seminar on couponing is particularly popular because it leads to cash in people’s pockets as more community members struggle to make ends meet due to inflation and high interest rates.

“We bring in lunch, talk to them about who we are and what we do, and offer helpful information,” Houser Minetos said.

As important as financial education is at First Capital, it’s only one facet of its commitment to community support. Charitable giving is another. There are plans to start a foundation in 2024 to focus charitable giving efforts and provide a fundraising nexus.

FirstCap United Way campaign
First Capital team members present a check to Kim Alvarez, VP of Donor Relations at the United Way of York County. The team raised $7,000 through jeans days, branch fundraisers, and its 2023 annual campaign.

The credit union also directs fundraising efforts through its FirstCap Gives Back program that allows team members to nominate community organizations for the credit union to support. Those organizations then help people in York County who may have nowhere else to turn.

“These are the people we work with and see at the grocery store,” Houser Minetos said. “We do a lot of sponsorships and a lot of community events, and creating this foundation will allow us to do even more.”

Plans for celebrating First Capital’s 70th anniversary center on a member appreciation event tentatively scheduled for spring 2024. There are also plans to celebrate 10 years of partnership with Kasasa in the summer.

Meanwhile, First Capital is always looking for new ways to give back to members who use its VISA Signature Rewards card. During the last few months in 2023, it offered 10x rewards on gas and grocery purchases. Depending on the economy and what members ask for, the team continually looks for new strategies to reward those who use its products.

“The 10x rewards program was a way for us to acknowledge that people are struggling,” Houser Minetos said. “It lets us do something to help.”