Q&A with Self-Help Credit Union: Part 1

Below is our Part 1 of our two-part interview with Self-Help Credit Union of Charlotte, a nonprofit credit union. Enjoy, and stay tuned for Part 2!

Self Help Credit Union Logo

Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): Tell us a little bit about Self Help Credit Union. What services are offered?

Sheila Wheeler (SW): Self-Help is a nonprofit credit union, community development lender and real estate developer, with a mission to create and protect ownership and economic opportunity for all. We strive to strengthen underserved communities through our lending and our credit unions. We’ve grown a lot since our founding in 1980; today we have more than 50,000 members in our statewide credit union, and we provide financing for hundreds of home-buyers and businesses each year.

We’re headquartered in Durham, but we’ve been in Charlotte since we opened our first office here in 1985. People in Charlotte might know us best for owning and operating the Great Aunt Stella Center, where we’re currently located.

Here’s a summary of some of the services we offer:

  • Business/Nonprofit Lending:

We lend to small businesses, start-ups, nonprofits, child care centers, community health facilities, public charter schools and residential and commercial real estate projects. We specialize in lending to businesses that are almost-but-not-quite ready for more traditional financing from a big bank. We’re happy to work closely with borrowers who have unusual or complicated situations, and we have expertise in complex deals.

We’re a community development lender. That means we focus on lending to borrowers who are underserved by traditional lenders. It also means we lend to businesses and projects that are good for the community.

Home Lending:
We make hundreds of home loans every year. As with our business lending, with our home lending we have a “one size doesn’t fit all” approach. We offer our borrowers a lot of flexibility and personalization. We’re willing to work with homebuyers who might have unusual circumstances, or an imperfect credit score. We make loans on a variety of types of residential real estate.

Folks in Charlotte interested in our home loans should contact Erin Blake in our Charlotte office (the Great Aunt Stella building) at (704) 409-5929, or check out our website.

Consumer Financial Services:
Through our credit unions, we offer a full range of financial products and services, including personal and auto loans. We have 17 branches across the state. The Charlotte office is a lending office only, but credit union members can access our services through online banking and mobile banking, and we participate in shared-branching and ATM-sharing networks to extend availability to those who don’t live near a branch. People interested in joining the Self-Help Credit Union can apply here: http://www.self-help.org/join-us.html

Real Estate Development:
In addition to financing real estate development (especially in distressed areas), we also acquire and build or rehabilitate commercial and residential properties ourselves. In Charlotte some of our notable development projects include:
• Purchasing the historic Great Aunt Stella Center at 926 Elizabeth Street and maintaining its availability as an affordable, alternative site for performances, meetings and weddings (see http://greatauntstellacenter.org/) while also housing Self-Help’s Charlotte offices.
• Partnering with the City of Charlotte to help stabilize the hard-hit Peachtree Hills neighborhood by rehabilitating and selling more than 30 homes to working families.
• Developing affordable housing (single-family homes and apartments) in the Grier Heights neighborhood. In total, Self-Help built or renovated 48 affordable homes in Charlotte last year.

CBR: What types of services does Self Help offer small business owners?

Sheila Wheeler: Flexibility and personalization: We specialize in working with business owners who just barely miss getting loans from banks and more conventional lenders. We can often take on the loans that banks can’t or won’t do. For instance, we can work with small business owners who have small collateral gaps, or have an unusual circumstance, or need smaller loans that banks might not be interested in financing.

Our nonprofit status doesn’t mean that we’re able to provide grants or below-market interest rates to borrowers. That’s not how we’re structured. But it does mean we look for ways to serve those who aren’t being served by the traditional lending marketplace, and it means we go out of our way to make good loans that will work for you and for us.

Access to beneficial programs: We participate in and have extensive experience with federal programs like the New Market Tax Credit program and the Small Business Administration’s 504 program. Both of these can help provide favorable loan terms for qualified borrowers.
The City of Charlotte has been a great partner for the last ten years with the Charlotte Community Capital Fund. More recently, we’ve partnered with the Tory Burch Foundation and Bank of America on the Elizabeth Street Capital program to help provide financing for women entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area. More info here and here.

Technical assistance: Through the loan application process, we also provide technical assistance to potential borrowers. We can help connect business owners with resources to help with developing their business plan, finding a mentor, or investing in energy efficiency upgrades to save money in the long term.

It’s important to us not to put people into loans they can’t afford, so we are rigorous about looking at cash flow, monthly expenses and business plans to be sure that the loan is a financially sound move for the business. Sometimes the numbers just don’t work and we can’t offer a loan. In those cases we are transparent about our reasons, and we tell business owners what they need to work on to be ready for financing.

Particularly for businesses in sectors where we have extensive experience, we can help provide guidance specific to that industry. For instance, we offer a lot of technical assistance to child care businesses. See this page for examples.

Self-Help Success Stories: Belinda Johnson from Self-Help Credit Union on Vimeo.

What other questions do you have for Self-Help Credit Union, Belinda Johnson, or CharlotteBusinessResources.com? Tweet them to us directly, at @CBRbiz!