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  • What Credit Unions Need to Know about Debt Aversion in the Hispanic Culture

    Posted by on September 28, 2017

    Over the next few months, we will write on a series of financial inclusion topics as they relate to the Hispanic culture. This first one focuses on an aversion to debt that exists within many segments of the Hispanic population. It also offers ideas for credit unions on how to provide education and value in this area.

    Why do Hispanic consumers tend to avoid debt?

    Although there’s no one right answer to this question, it’s important to remember conventional banking as we know it in the U.S. may not be part of the traditional Hispanic upbringing. As Glenn Llopis, founder of the Center for Hispanic Leadership, wrote in a HuffPost blog post, “This has led to a general mistrust of banks and, when coupled with a natural skepticism, would account for the $53 billion attributed to ‘unbanked’ Latino households (according to a research arm of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business).”

    We see the effects of debt aversion in higher education, as well. According to Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, senior research fellow for the Institute for College Access & Success, several cultural factors contribute to the difficulty Hispanic students often experience when it comes to securing financial aid for college. These include fear of debt, mistrust of lenders and conflict between family obligations and educational aspirations. “While Latinos generally have a strong commitment to education, many believe that if you can’t afford to pay for it up front, you can’t attend,” Hernandez-Gravelle writes.

    How can credit unions help?

    Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to financial education.

    It’s important to remember different cultures and financial classes have different perspectives on money and financial services providers. For example, as psychologist Miquela Rivera, PH.D., points out, for first-generation, low-income Hispanics, accumulation of money might be, at first, the main goal. Later, they may realize money in itself is not a satisfier, but that satisfaction comes from doing what they want in life, without excessive financial worry.

    “Latino students who are financially literate must view money as a means, tool or resource for getting things done, not an end in itself,” Rivera writes. When credit unions help their Hispanic members achieve this mindset, those members begin to see more clearly the importance of establishing credit and that debt, when managed responsibly, can actually be beneficial.

    Focus on cultural needs vs. language barriers.

    Rather than focusing on literacy and word-for-word translations, Principal’s Hispanic Market Program focuses on context and cultural needs to engage Hispanics in retirement savings. The program promotes a “transcreate vs. translate” ideology, focusing on context in written educational materials rather than the word-for-word translation. Also built in is incorporating simplicity in presentations and correcting misinformation, such as the kind that leads to distrust in financial institutions.

    Credit unions should take a similar approach to educating Hispanic members and prospective members about debt and creditworthiness.

    Build trust and credibility.

    Llopis recommends offering culturally relevant and language-appropriate products and services backed by bilingual staff. He adds it’s also important to show genuine concern for the community – for example, by active involvement in Hispanic issues and sponsorship of local events. The community will be more likely to trust the education a credit union offers if it’s playing an active role in the betterment of their daily lives.

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