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Members have a financial need when they experience life’s unexpected emergencies, and coming out of the other side of the pandemic, many are still struggling to locate a sound solution.

In May 2023, the Federal Reserve released a report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2022-2023, and many of the results were unsettling. U.S. consumers’ average emergency expense is now approximately $1,700, reflecting a year-over-year growth of 16 percent. Among consumers living paycheck-to-paycheck, 48 percent of those struggling to pay monthly bills say they have faced an emergency expense in the three months prior to May 2023. 

Credit union members, both lapsed and active, remain in search of accessible and affordable solutions to those unexpected life events. In many situations they’re not getting them, remain unaware they are even offered, or unwittingly finding that solution someplace else like a predatory payday lender. Such is the struggle for, say, the 65 percent of Americans who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a 2024 joint survey by CNBC and SurveyMonkey. That is a hefty increase from 2023, when 58 percent identified the same.

Unexpected emergencies in a world of increasing unaffordability

Members and consumers in general are experiencing increasing need for financial solutions to counter the excessive cost of living and coming up short. And there are plenty of examples to choose from.

A year and a half ago, at 59 years-old and living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Mary was also recovering from a stroke and faced the journey of moving over 1,000 miles to live closer to her brother. Forced to leave most of her furniture and valuables behind, she did not qualify for most loans yet needed just a few household items. With very limited financial resources, Mary’s ability to withstand the journey and land an affordable apartment close to her brother remained uncertain.

If you have ever relied on your car for your morning commute along with, say, taking care of life’s essentials and errands, you can probably empathize with Megan’s stress-sandwich of a morning. Running late getting to work, Megan jumped in her car, shifted into reverse, and saw the check-engine light flare on. A sudden abundance of anxiety and an unsettling head-rush contrasted with the eventual realization that she only had about half of the $5,000 required for an entirely new transmission. How will Megan get that extra $2,500? 

But a really special story centers on Deanne. A dedicated member of her Centralia, Washington, credit union for 30 years, she considered her cooperative a substitute for her family. She felt fortunate, too, because as she herself said, “You can’t go through life without having some vulnerable moments.” 

But that’s when another vulnerable moment reared its head. Not long ago, Deanne experienced a severe allergic reaction to a diabetic medication. She went to the emergency room only to be transported 85 miles from to another hospital. To her surprise, Deanne received two bills from two different ambulance services, demanding the bills be paid in full, immediately. 

That kind of unvertainty is what millions of members and consumers experience every day in the United States. What Mary, Megan, Deanne, and scores of credit union members across the country deserve is to be aware and have instant access to small-dollar lending products when unexpected emergencies strike. What will they do next time when an unexpected emergency comes by to visit?