OKLAHOMA CITY-Following tornadoes that have devastated portions of the Midwest and South, Communication FCU here introduced a loan to help members finance storm shelters.

Stephen Lark, VP of marketing & communications, said Communication FCU was seeking to find a way to help members "that would have a lasting impact."

The $800-million CFCU-which serves more than 47,000 members in Kansas and Oklahoma-is offering the unsecured loan to any member who owns their home and has a verifiable income. The loan has a 2.99% APR and terms from two to five years. The shelters-which are generally installed by cutting out part of the floor of the garage and building a small space beneath-generally cost $5,000 or less.

"Anybody that's approved gets the 2.99 rate, because our primary goal is to have people have affordable, convenient shelter," said Lark.

More than 60 loans were approved within the program's first four days, with only one application turned down. Rather than approve the loan and immediately issue the funds, Communication FCU requires either a copy of receipt of payment for the completed installation or a work-order from the company performing the installation before funds are dispersed.

Lark said that about 75% of the borrowers have been new members, although that's not an objective. Rather, he said, the strong response is the result of media coverage and word-of-mouth after the CU advertised the offering on its website and Facebook page.

Communication FCU hasn't put a cap on the number of storm shelter loans it will make, and Lark said that he didn't think there would be so much demand "that it predicates a need for us to change the policy at this point. If it goes crazy, yes, we'll have to look at curtailing the program, but I don't see that happening."

The offering will likely continue indefinitely. "As long as the rate situation is what it is, I think we'll keep it like that; it's not like we're going to make money on it," he said, noting the possibility that some loans may default and that there is increased risk because of the lack of collateral.

"It's not a make-money kind of thing at this point," he said. "We'll keep it out there as long as it's feasible to do it. We're not going to actively promote it at other times of the year, but we'll probably keep the product out there."

The shelters take about a day to install and can hold between 4 and 12 people, depending on their size. "It's a staircase that leads down into a hole and there's benches on each side," explained Lark. "You're cozy, but it's definitely better than being above ground."

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