Community development investing: Summer 2005
Opportunities Credit Union
by Antonia Bullard
Colchester’s Triple M Deli mirrors Vermont’s new-found ethnic diversity:
coffee, soda, chips, ham sandwiches on white bread -- and egg rolls. Working long
hours behind the counter are Phuong Lam and her family, who came to Vermont as
refugees from Vietnam. Like generations of immigrants, they brought little but a
willingness to work hard and the determination to build a better life. They
quickly discovered that to become part of the economic mainstream they needed
credit and financial services. From other Vietnamese refugee families they
learned that Opportunities Credit Union is an institution that welcomes recent
arrivals who have no prior banking experience and only non-traditional credit
histories. In 1994, the Lams opened a savings account with a $5 minimum balance.
Soon afterward, they borrowed money to buy a used car.
After a decade of working two jobs, Phuong Lam and her mother decided to go
into business for themselves. They were excited to find a small grocery and deli
for sale in Mallett’s Bay, Vermont, but discouraged when none of the financial
institutions they approached would consider making a loan to a startup business.
Fortunately, Opportunities was willing to look creatively at their financial
picture and understand how they could repay the loan. “Opportunities believed in
us and helped us reach our goal,” says Phuong. “We’re grateful for their
Phuong Lam is just one of thousands of low-wealth Vermonters who have used
Opportunities to create opportunities of their own. Since 1989, when an
interfaith group founded what was originally called Vermont Development Credit
Union, it has made 13,000 loans totaling $150 million. Opportunities’ mission to
build wealth, community, and opportunity through a fair and affordable financial
system helps people take control over their finances, build positive credit
history, accumulate assets, and escape high-interest debt. Opportunities makes
loans directly to individuals and families for education, transportation, small
business, home purchase and renovations, credit repair, and many other purposes.
One of its fastest growing lending programs is for manufactured/mobile homes.
Traditionally, the most common form of affordable housing financing in rural
areas has been “chattel” loans, which have high interest rates.
The Opportunities motto, “We don’t say no, we say when,” demonstrates a
commitment to help remove the barriers to eligibility and the pitfalls of
predatory lending for motivated applicants who do not immediately qualify for a
loan. In additional to loans, Opportunities provides basic transactions services
such as $5-minimum-balance savings accounts, check cashing, checking accounts,
ATM/debit cards, and straightforward information and financial education.
Opportunities’ loan capital comes from the deposits of thousands of
individuals and organizations who enjoy the triple benefit of federal insurance,
market returns, and the satisfaction of creating opportunities for people like
Antonia Bullard is the Associate Director of Opportunities, Inc. For
information about federally insured CD and Money Market accounts, go to
www.oppsvt.org or contact Dawn Moskowitz at (802) 865-2003 X135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.