Keys Federal Credit Union doesn't shy away from personal loans, or from people who consider themselves a financial disasterer.
In fact, that's sort of their specialty, said Scott Duszynski, president and CEO of Keys Federal Credit Union.
He has answered the question, "What's the difference between a credit union and a bank?" so frequently that he had a brochure printed in answer.
A credit union is a nonprofit financial institution that is owned by its members instead of by shareholders interested in profits. Any money that a credit union does make is passed on to its member owners through lower loan rates, free checking accounts and lower fees, Duszynski said.
"We offer all the same services as a traditional bank, including checking and savings accounts, direct deposit of paychecks, ATM and debit cards, mortgages and loans," said Mary Lou Carn, marketing director for KFCU. "We're more about people, and banks are more about profits and business loans."
In the current economy, traditional banks are shying away from consumer, or personal loans, Duszynski said from his office on North Roosevelt Boulevard last week.
"Banks are actually referring loan applicants to us for car, boat or other personal loans," he said.
Members new to credit unions simply have some different terminology to learn, he added.
For example, a bank's checking account is called a shared draft account, and interest earned on accounts is called dividends because it is paid to the credit union as a whole and its member owners, Carn said.
Another credit union advantage is that transactions are handled in real time, unlike traditional banks that have a 2 p.m. cut-off for transactions. Any transaction made after 2 p.m. is credited the next business day, but not at KFCU.
Keys Federal Credit Union is the oldest financial institution in the Florida Keys, having just celebrated its 72nd birthday last month, Carn said.
The credit union was created in 1940 by civilian employees of the local naval station, who believed that by pooling their money, they could provice more affordable financial services for everyone, according to the brochure that details the credit union's history.
So far, they were right.
Keys FCU currently has more than 10,000 members in the Florida Keys and throughout the country. Membership in the credit union requires that a member either live or work in the Florida Keys.
"But once you're a member, you can move anywhere and still be a member," Duszynski said, adding that "You do have to become a member when you get a loan from us."
And loans are their specialty.
Keys Federal Credit Union has helped people with struggling credit scores A.) understand those scores and B.) learn to bolster them.
"We provide credit builder loans in the amount of $500 or $1,000," Duszynski said.
Such loans enable a customer to repay it while establishing a history of loan repayment that helps improve their credit score, he said.
"Banks won't usually mess with amounts that low," he said, adding that KFCU offers an annual, 13-week seminar called Financial Peace University that teaches people how to get out of debt. The credit union is also preparing to offer quarterly seminars on how to read and clean up your credit report and scores, Duszynski said.
The credit union's personal touch is one that is appreciate by its members, In the wake of Hurricane Georges and Hurrican Wilma, KFCU offered its members a three-year, $5,000 loan at 5 percent interest, no questions asked, to help memebrs get back on their feet after storm damage.
"We gave out 800-900 of those loans after the storm, and all but two of them were paid back in full," he said, adding that employees are in the process of calling the credit union's 268 members who live in the Northeast, which was ravages last week by Superstorm Sandy.
"We'll call all those members and see if they need anything," Duszynski said, adding that the institution also offers a great deal of training for employees and promotes from within.
"I started as a teller here," he said. "One of our consumer lenders started as an intern here 16 years ago. We also pay for college and continuing education. There's a lot of educational opportunities here if you want to do well."
The North Boulevard construction has affected the credit union, which moved into its spacious new headquarters in the former Boater's World building in Key Plaza in January.
"We moved in here, which was great for visibilit and walk-in traffic, then Albertsons closed. Then the new Publix opened, and the construction started," Carn said. "So there's always been something happening that affects walk-up foot traffic."
She acknowledged that they've been fortunate in having alternative access to the shopping center from Kennedy Drive and behind Kmart, but it's not ideal, when you can't turn right out of their main exit, Duszynski said.
"We're adding mobile banking in January, so people can take a picture of a check to be deposited," he said. "We've also just started offering extended hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, both inside and the drive-through."
The credit union also offers free online bill pay, and on-demand transfers of money between banks, which is often used by tenants who deposit rent payments into a landlord's account at a different bank, he said.
"Basically, we offer the home field advantage and we take care of people." Carn said.