Cindy Rein-Zima, president and chief executive officer of Hamilton Horizons Federal Credit Union is proud her institution teaches sound financial principles, despite a society that buys too much on credit. Photo by Chris Sturgis.

By Chris Sturgis

The Hamilton Horizons Federal Credit Union is committed to improving financial literacy, particularly among youngsters, said President and Chief Executive Officer Cindy Rein-Zima. First of all, it’s important to understand that federal credit unions are not-for-profit institutions, while banks are for-profit institutions organized to make money for their owners or stockholders, she said.

“At a credit union, it’s more important to take care of the people than the money,” Rein-Zima said. Hamilton Horizons came to be in 1954 as the employee credit union of Demag Delaval Turbo Machines, but had to become a community-chartered credit union when that company reorganized.

Rein-Zima said credit unions offer virtually the same services as banks, including surcharge-free automatic teller machines. Horizon members may access their money over the All-Point Network, which includes 32,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide.

The credit unions were not involved in sub-prime lending and high-interest loans, including home mortgages, given to people with no credit or poor credit. The borrowers are likely to pay excessively, fall behind, and then lose their homes.

Credit unions also have relatively favorable credit care programs with fixed rates, not variable ones, she said.

Membership in Hamilton Horizons is available to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Hamilton Township and anyone related to a member. A member can keep a share-draft account open with a balance as low as $5 and may vote for the members of the Board of Directors, who are volunteers.

Hamilton Horizons has about 3,000 members and is located at Ibis Office Plaza at 3535 Quakerbridge Road, Suite 600, for about seven years.

The credit union is very involved in the community. It sponsors the High School Financial Planning Program for students at Hamilton High School West. The curriculum was developed by the National Endowment for Financial Education and is distributed through the Cooperative Extension System, to which Rutgers University belongs. The topics include financial planning, goal setting, career decisions and entrepreneurship, budgeting and cash flow, credit, insurance, saving and investing.

Rein-Zima said the assumption that young people learn money management from their parents and don’t need to study it in school may need to be re-evaluated since so many people struggle with the consequences of unwise choices, particularly with credit cards.

In fact, experts say college students are more likely to drop out because of credit card debt than because they can’t afford tuition, Rein-Zima said.

The Credit Union National Association, the trade union for credit unions, is lobbying for state and federal legislation restricting the marketing of credit cards to college students, Rein-Zima said.

She said the students who get in over their heads are a reflection of a society in which people buy on credit, rather than wait and save up for purchases. “Sometimes it’s a good thing to wait,” Rein-Zima said.

Hamilton Horizons also has financial lessons geared to younger consumers all organized under a fitting mascot, Moola the cash cow. A cash cow, after all, is a dependable source of income, and “moolah” is a slang word for money, and cows have four stomachs, one for each of the four basic things people do with money: spending, saving, investing and giving. Other youth programs are the Start Smart Savings Club for Kids and the Cha-Ching Teen Club.

“We try to teach them, now, what’s going to be important later,” she said.

For more information, call the Hamilton Horizons Federal Credit Union, 3535 Quakerbridge Road, Suite 600, Hamilton, NJ, 08619, at (609) 631-4300. On the Web: hhorizonsfcu.org.