Maine's credit unions court young people

Morning Sentinel | By Emma Bouthillette

College tuition, car loans, rent, grocery bills, savings, checking accounts and credit cards.

Maine's young people face an onslaught of financial responsibility from the time they graduate from high school.

With jargon about overdraft fees, annual percentage rates and paying back interest versus principal thrown their way, many are confused by the world of money.

Maine's credit unions hope that a creative approach with a youthful spokesperson will provide a bit of financial education, and attract new customers.

"Youth has been a priority for credit unions for years," said John Murphy, president and CEO of the Maine Credit Union League. "But we've never had a program that we could reach out to the 25-and-under population and focus on the benefits that credit unions provide."

The league began a search for a "Young & Free Maine Spokesperson" earlier this spring. It got 26 applicants for the one-year position, and will announce the final three candidates on Friday.

The top three will have three weeks to campaign and solicit votes online at www.youngfreemaine.com.

The winner, who will be named June 17, will spend a year promoting Maine's credit unions through social media and videos, attending promotional events and being accessible to Maine's youths. The full-time job starts July 1 and pays $25,000.

The spokesperson will be equipped with a MacBook Pro, an HD video camera with microphone and accessories, a smartphone with paid contract and the use of a Honda Fit covered with credit union advertising for promotional events.

"We look at the Young & Free program as a great opportunity to mesh the credit union's desire to provide services to the younger consumer and have them understand what the financial products are today," Murphy said.

Seth Poplaski, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Maine, saw it as an ideal job opportunity.

On the Young & Free Maine website, he wrote: "I'm looking to find a real job, like most everyone else my age."

Poplaski, who graduated with a journalism degree in 2009, is a bartender and server at Texas Roadhouse in Bangor, while looking for a journalism-related job.

He said he would like to stay in Maine, but journalism jobs here are limited and highly competitive.

"I'm in the same situation as most 18- to 25-year-olds," Poplaski said.

"I just got out of college and I'm working at a job not even close to my major," he said.

Molly Massa, 20, of South Portland is faced with working three jobs this summer just to pay rent.

Massa just finished her junior year at the University of Southern Maine. She said she applied for the one-year position as a resume builder and for financial security.

"I think it's a great idea. A lot of young people use things like Facebook and the Internet. It's pretty hard for young people to access the info that they need to know," she said, and the financial world can be "very confusing."

Maine joins more than half a dozen states and Canadian provinces in naming a Young & Free Spokesperson for credit unions and businesses using alternative media to connect with customers.

Murphy said, "We're trying to look to the future and see who are the members using credit unions down the road, and we are reaching out to them in a proactive way."

For more information about the position, to view the 26 applications or to follow and vote for one of the three finalist starting Friday, visit www.youngfreemaine.com.

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