NEW JERSEY: In response to the struggle that many individuals and families face trying to save for a home, car, college or a rainy day, United Teletech Financial Credit Union has launched the first prize-linked savings program in New Jersey to help people on a path to financial health.

Called “U-WIN,” the innovative program encourages people to save by offering chances to win cash prizes in lottery drawings that take place monthly, quarterly and annually. The program also provides free financial seminars and consultations with certified financial counselors to foster financial well-being.

“United Teletech Financial is proud to be a leader in giving our community a new way to save that leads to financial security,” said Leo Ardine, president and chief executive officer of the 52-year-old credit union, which serves 24,000 members in central New Jersey.

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Led by a volunteer board of directors, the not-for-profit credit union is “guided by a mission of people helping people and this initiative aligns with our commitment to improving the lives of our members and the communities where they live and work,” said Ruth Kluin, board chair.

Despite recent improvements in the economy and employment rates, the Federal Reserve reports that 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency without borrowing money or selling something, Ardine noted. Moreover, 70 percent of the lowest-income households in the United States have no savings at all.

“These alarming statistics inspired United Teletech Financial to find a way to help our neighbors in central New Jersey build a financial cushion for emergencies and gain financial literacy to save for their future,” said Francis James, the credit union’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Through U-WIN, the credit union aims to help 2,000 new members save $500 each in 2020, Ardine said, “a $1 million lift” to communities it serves in Monmouth and Ocean counties and portions of central Middlesex County.

Notably, research from the Urban Institute shows that families with as little as $250 to $749 in savings are less likely to be evicted, miss a housing or utility payment or receive public benefits after a job loss, health issue, or large income drop, Ardine said.

Programs like U-WIN are designed to motivate low- to moderate-income families to develop savings habits by rewarding them for saving with chances to win money and offering guidance on ways to find $5, $10 or more every week to tuck into their prize-linked savings account.

“Essentially, the more you save, the more chances you have to win cash prizes, which adds an element of fun in saving for your future,” James said.

Here’s how it works: for every dollar saved up to $100, a depositor wins a chance to be entered into a monthly drawing to win one of 40, $25 prizes. The 12-month program also includes four $500 drawings with up to 300 chances to win and one, $1,000 drawing with up to 1,200 chances to score the big prize. Withdrawals are limited to two within the 12-month-program and a third results in closing the U-WIN account. After one year, all savings and winnings are automatically transferred into the member’s general savings account.

Similar programs have been offered by credits unions across the country since 2009, helping Americans save more than $195 million. A law signed by Governor Chris Christie in January 2016 cleared the way for New Jersey credit unions and banks to offer prize-linked savings accounts.

In addition to the cash prize incentives, the U-WIN initiative includes ongoing support from certified financial counselors. United Teletech Financial also will be hosting a series of free seminars open to the public. The first U-WIN seminar, “All About Credit Unions: The Alternative Banking Option Where You’re a Member-Owner,” will take place on Tues., March 24 at 201 US Highway 1 South, Suite 119-B, North Brunswick, 08902 and Thurs., March 26 at 205 Hance Ave., Tinton Falls, 07724.  The seminars are 5:30-6:30 p.m. Registration is available at www.utfinancial.org/seminars.

U-WIN is available to anyone 18 years or older who lives, works, worships, attends school or volunteers in Monmouth and Ocean counties and central Middlesex County. Participants must become a member of the credit union by opening a $5 Shares Saving Account. Anyone interested can sign up online or at a credit union branch in Marlboro, Neptune, North Brunswick or Tinton Falls. Employees at AT&T in Middletown and IFF in Hazlet, may also sign up at the United Teletech locations on their campuses.

The first U-WIN lottery drawing will take place on April 16. All prize drawings are managed by WINcentive, a service provided to credit unions.

About United Teletech Financial Credit Union
United Teletech Financial (UTF) is a full-service, not-for-profit financial institution that serves over 24,000 members at six locations in central New Jersey. Originally chartered in 1967 to serve the needs of Bell Labs employees, we are now open to anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school or volunteers in Monmouth County, Ocean County and portions of central Middlesex County. As a financial cooperative, UTF offers many of the same services and products as banks, with one significant difference - we're owned by our members. That means our earnings go right back to our membership in the form of better rates, fewer fees and extra services. With a mission to help people and communities thrive, we are dedicated to making a lasting positive impact. Visit us at utfinancial.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.