Business as usual.

Amid the gloomy headlines about unemployment, the economy, home sales, and mortgages, credit unions continue to be a source of good news—and good loans.

Why? It’s the credit union difference. Bank lenders accountable to stockholders must generate earnings to pay those investors. Not-for-profit, cooperative credit unions are owned by members only—you and other consumers—and thus have no motivation to maximize profits at the expense of borrowers. Credit unions make responsible loans at fair rates.

Still, in this economy, no individual, family, or lender is immune from effects of the recession. For example, even a prudently made home loan can become troubled when it’s for a house whose value later declines 40% or more, or the mortgage holder loses a job.

Just one example of the credit union difference is the credit union way of doing business. Credit unions support each other. For example, consider the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which insures your credit union accounts to at least $250,000.

Our credit union—and all other federally insured credit unions—pay insurance premiums annually. In our system, the insurance is entirely funded by credit unions. We also maintain a capital deposit with the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the federal insurer—equal to 1% of the total insured savings at our credit union—to further strengthen federal insurance.

Credit unions are different in another way: For some liquidity and investment services, we turn to unique credit unions—called corporate credit unions—that serve only other credit unions, not consumers.

Because of the nature of what they do, these wholesale credit unions operate in the capital markets. Although they invested in securities that were highly rated at the time they bought them, they, like so many others in those markets, have seen the value of their investments decline in the economic downturn.

As in our credit union, deposits in these wholesale corporate institutions are federally insured by NCUA, the federal insurer and regulator for credit unions. The reserves in its federal deposit insurance fund come from funds contributed entirely by credit unions, through the insurance premiums we pay annually. These funds, in turn, are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government in the same way that the FDIC protects deposits in the nation’s banks.

To address losses expected by some of these 27 corporates, NCUA has to charge all federally insured credit unions a higher premium. We have the ‘rainy day funds’ put aside to replenish the fund. Still, we will be paying a higher insurance premium this year and for a few more, both to make up for the corporate losses and to pay for the increase in your coverage to $250,000. These expenses will shore up the insurance protection we all count on.

Our daily operations are not affected; we will continue to provide the same high level of quality services you have come to expect. And we continue to maintain plenty of capital reserves to act as a cushion for difficult economic times.

Take Steps to Prevent Senior Financial Scams

A study released by MetLife Mature Market Institute, New York, revealed that perpetrators of elder financial abuse typically are not strangers to the victim: Most perpetrators have gained the trust of the older individual, according to the March 2009 report.

The shocking truth: Family members and caregivers are culprits in 55% of reported cases.

Take steps to reduce the likelihood you or a loved one will become a victim:

* Establish who will have power of attorney.
* Don’t commingle funds with those of the person granted power of attorney.
* Check references and conduct criminal or background checks on all hired help.
* Be suspicious of all phone solicitations. Simply say “no thank you” and hang up.
* Get to know credit union staff members; they are trained to recognize warning signs affecting accounts and to report suspicious activity.

Car Trouble? Check for Recalls

Recent auto recalls may have you wondering about your own set of wheels. There are ways to check up on your vehicle if you are having recurring problems and—in some cases—get them fixed for free. Go to the Defects and Recalls section of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/index.cfm. Check out four different sections:

• Safety recalls. Start here. Your problem could have generated an official recall and you were not notified, especially if you are not the original owner of the car. If so, you definitely will get the problem fixed for free. Print out the details of this notice and take it to a dealership.

 • Defect investigations. Check to see if problems like yours triggered a NHTSA investigation. If one is under way, it may strengthen your case for a free repair. But if NHTSA closed the investigation without ordering any action—as in the case of Toyota unintended acceleration, where NHTSA ordered no action for 2002 Toyota Camrys—it undermines your argument.

•Safety complaints. In the Search complaints subsection, see if other owners of the same vehicle have raised this problem. Read the complaints carefully to see if others took their cars to dealerships. Be especially alert for a notation that a dealer fixed it at no charge and plan to show it to your dealer.

• Service bulletins. These bulletins, sent to dealers detailing needed repairs, must be filed with NHTSA. The agency puts summaries of safety-related bulletins on its Web site. But getting the full documents can take weeks or longer. Fees run $45 an hour for staff time. Instead, if evidence from defect investigations or owner complaints make it likely that the car company has detailed fixes for your problem, you can buy a full set of service bulletins from Alldata, a publisher of repair manuals and other automotive information. At alldatadiy.com, you can get a full set for $26.95. Print out any bulletin describing your problem.

Distracted Driving

Drivers who are distracted, or inattentive cause nearly 70% of rear-end crashes on the highway and about 25% of all accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Though it can take almost superhuman effort in today’s round of commuting, shopping, and shuttling the kids, avoiding such distractions can save your life. Here are ways to avoid being a distracted driver:

* Stay off your cell phone while in motion. If you need to make a call, find a place to pull over and stop. Follow the same advice if you need to adjust your GPS settings, read a map, take off your coat, or put on makeup.

* Know the laws in your state. If you can’t always pull over to use the phone, at least make sure you know if your state bans the use of hand-held phones while driving. If hand-held phones are illegal, get a hands-free setup, then use it as little as possible.

* If your car has less-distracting controls, use them. Buttons in the steering wheel that adjust radio tuning and volume can keep you from taking your eyes off the road—once you get used to them.

* Talk to passengers as little as possible. Just as with a cell phone, a live conversation takes your focus off the road. Most of all, try to avoid arguments, or at least postpone them until you can stop.

* Don’t drive with pets unless they are restrained. A survey by auto club AAA finds that 60% of dog owners have been distracted by their pets in the car while driving. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals adds that pets should be restrained in a car for their protection in case of a crash.

* Do talk about distractions with teenagers. Go over the dangers of texting and calling while driving. In an IIHS survey, 37% of drivers ages 18 to 24 said they text while driving at least a few times a month. Find out if your state bans all texting while driving and, if so, point out to your teen that the practice is not only dangerous but illegal.

Home Improvement: What To Look For

Some shady contractors do their best to convince you that you desperately need a home repair and that you need it done NOW.

Here are five things that should leave you with an eyebrow raised, and your guard up:

*Anyone who shows up unannounced offering a special deal. Reputable companies don’t need to knock on doors.

*Requests for cash or large up-front payments.

*High-pressure sales tactics pushing you to make a quick decision. A good company knows that the more you think about your project, the better its offer will look.

*Extremely low bids–remember the adage, “You get what you pay for.”

*A truck that has little or no identification and business cards lacking a street address.

Ask a prospective contractor for his business license and the name of his insurance provider. Verify that both are valid. If your state doesn’t regulate residential contracting work, ask to see a driver’s license so you know who you are dealing with and where the contractor lives.

With a little research, you can find a reputable contractor who will get your home improvement job done right. Call or stop by Hopewell Federal Credit Union to talk to us about financing your renovations with a home equity loan.