By: Tony Best
That’s a word routinely used by experts to describe patience and tolerance. But to the executives and the board of Directors of the Municipal Credit Union, a $ 1.7 billion financial institution that’s one of the largest in the nation, “forbearance” has a special and indeed humanitarian meaning.
“In these very difficult times when millions of people across our country and many in our City have lost their jobs, can’t pay their bills, especially the mortgages on their homes, our forbearance program means quite a lot to them,” explained Mark S. Brantley, Chairman of MCU’s Board of directors. “It’s a service we offer to them when their financial situation has become dire. It’s fashioned to meet people’s needs in cases in which they have lost their jobs, have taken on too much debt and can’t make ends meet and they happen to default on their mortgage. We are not in the business of accumulating real estate so we have devised this program to help our members and allow them to stay in their homes or work their way out of debt.”
Stated simply, MCU is doing for people what the large commercial financial institutions, the major commercial banks and mortgage companies have steadfastly declined to embrace.
“When our members are really stretched beyond the financial limit and are in serious trouble our collections department will reach out and really try to work with them and say, ‘hey, how can we make this work? We don’t want your house.’ We are not in the business of owning homes,” Brantley explained. “They would say to our members it would be better for you and the institution to stay in that home. So let’s work something out.”
And working out an arrangement may include a six month extension of the time to pay the mortgage that was due, putting the amount that’s owed at the “back-end of the payment schedule” was the way the chairman put it.
That’s out of step with the rough and tumble eviction process leading banks and mortgage companies engaged in at the height of the financial and mortgage crisis. Many of them even went so far as to break the law in their haste to foreclose on homes by using machines to sign legal foreclosure documents that require careful reading and study. The upshot, hundreds of thousands of homeowners lost their properties, their largest single investment and don’t know where to turn. In the end many of commercial financial institutions were slapped with stiff fines by the courts for engaging in their illegal ways.
“The forbearance program is one of the things we have done pro-actively. “We were out front with this long before some of the banks even thought about it,” Brantley explained.
But that’s not all there is to know about MCU which has offices scattered across the City to accommodate its 300,000-400,000 members, many of whom are Caribbean immigrants who brought the tradition of credit union membership with them from their home countries.
“The core of our business is the diverse set of financial products we provide,” explained Brantley, an attorney who when he isn’t presiding over meetings of the MCU board is serving as the Administrator of the Office of the County Clerk in New York, working in a building that’s perhaps the most easily recognizable courthouse in the nation. Think of an episode of the long-running television series “Law and Order” or a scene from a movie when prosecutors have just gained a conviction and want to explain to the media what happened and the image of the court administrator would come quickly to mind. But across the street in a skyscraper that’s within walking distance of City Hall, the Council chamber and the Office of the New City Comptroller is a busy MCU office to which people turn to deposit or withdraw money from their accounts, negotiate the terms of loans or yes, pay their mortgages when they are due.
“We are not into debt forgiveness,” explained Brantley, an ordained religious minister, who was born and raised in Harlem and lives there with his family. “But we are into satisfying the needs of our members. Interestingly, we have a low level of delinquencies on loans”
Those needs may run the gamut from standard savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit, credit cards, money market accounts and mortgages to student and automobile loans, you name them.
“We were not substantially and negatively impacted by the fallout from the financial crisis,” Brantley said. “For one thing we offered mortgages to our members that they could afford. For another we don’t sell our mortgages on the secondary market,” meaning that an MCU mortgage loan stays with the credit union and isn’t subject to manipulation by a European bank.
The Vice Chairman of the MCU Board is Justice Sylvia Ashe, a prominent judge of the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
MCU has been operating in the City since 1916 and it has grown from one branch to 16 offices and offers access to funds 24/7 at its large network of ATMs.