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Sometime you might need to raise cash in a hurry, say, in response to an emergency. Maybe you've missed your flight, lost your car's muffler, or had your wallet stolen.
       If you need to raise cash fast, look to your credit union. Recent interviews with credit union professionals across the U.S. reveal an astonishing array of ways to raise cash fast, even if your pockets literally are empty.
       Credit union staff most frequently mention plastic as a means of raising cash in a hurry. Today, plastic comes in three major forms: ATM (automated teller machine) cards, debit cards, and credit cards. Each form has unique characteristics and limitations.

You can use a credit card to raise "new money." For example, if you have a credit card, you can go to a financial institution and ask for a cash advance on your available credit, says Gary Moffatt, vice president of operations for First Entertainment Federal Credit Union in Hollywood, Calif. Moffatt says that, unlike those issued by many banks, the Visa cards First Entertainment Federal issues charge the same interest rate for both cash advances and purchases.
       If you don't have a credit card, or you've "maxed out" your credit limit, you can use ATM and debit cards to access funds from your credit union accounts.

The versatile debit card
Debit cards are more versatile than ATM cards. You don't have to go to an ATM to use a debit card, explains Ray E. Cromer Jr., president/chief executive officer (CEO) of North Florida Education Credit Union in Tallahassee. Debit cards look like credit cards, and you can use debit cards to purchase goods and services. You also can use most debit cards in ATMs to withdraw money from your credit union account. But keep in mind, debit cards draw against existing funds in your credit union account, so they're not a source of "new" money when you're cash-strapped.
       Debit cards have been around since the 1980s, says Paul Lensmeyer, president/CEO of the Alcoa Employees Credit Union in Bettendorf, Iowa. He says debit cards have become popular with credit unions and members during the past 12 to 24 months. Debit cards, often called "check cards," probably will replace ATM cards in the future, Moffatt and others predict.
       Cromer adds that every credit union has different rules and regulations governing the use of debit cards. North Florida Education members may use debit cards to access up to four types of accounts--including share accounts, money market accounts, lines of credit, and all-purpose accounts--provided they all are under the same account number. Members can designate the order in which the debit card accesses accounts, a feature other credit unions may not provide, says Cromer.

Raising cash when your wallet's been lifted
If your wallet's been stolen--you have no funds and no cards--turning to your credit union for help raising cash still is a good idea.
       Lensmeyer says his credit union can, for instance, issue a commercial money order drawn on the account of a member whose wallet has been lost or stolen. Then the member can go to any Western Union office to receive the funds. After hours, Alcoa Employees members can access the credit union's audio response line and ask for a check to be mailed to them the next business day.
       First Entertainment Federal's "First Call" service provides its members with access to their accounts 24 hours a day, via a toll-free telephone number good from anywhere in the U.S. If members want to use their debit cards but don't have enough money in a share draft account, using First Call they can transfer money from a savings or money market account into their share draft accounts.
       North Florida Education members can access their accounts through the credit union's Web page, using a personal computer and special software the credit union provides. Members can obtain the software on disk from the credit union or download it from the Web page. However, members first must sign up for the service, provide a signature, and choose a PIN (personal identification number).
       Currently, North Florida Education members can use this access to transfer funds between their accounts and pay bills. By the end of the year, Cromer hopes to have an automated underwriting process available through the Web site. It would allow members to input information and receive an answer or loan approval within minutes, thus giving them the potential to access "new money" if an emergency situation finds them short of funds.
       Moffatt says most requests for emergency cash that he's been involved with deal with amounts from $500 to $1,000. If members don't have enough funds in their accounts, there often are ways to deal with the situation and provide access to "new" money. For instance, the credit union can fax a loan application to a member for the member to complete and fax back to the credit union for approval. The credit union often can increase a member's credit card limit, Moffatt says, on the spot.
       Some members have money in a credit union account but find their access to cash restricted by a $200-or-$300-per-day ATM limit. Moffatt says it is possible to temporarily raise ATM access to up to $1,000 per day, something he once did for a member who was traveling in London. Recently, a male lead of a popular TV hospital drama, a First Entertainment Federal member, called and requested that his ATM access be raised. Moffatt says when approval was granted, it took about 30 seconds to make it effective.
It's possible to
temporarily raise
ATM access limits
from the typical $200
or $300 a day
to $1,000 per day.

Raise cash faster if you're prepared
Even if you can't "plan" an emergency, it's wise to be prepared. It's much easier for credit union members to raise cash in a hurry if they've taken some preliminary steps before they need the dough.
       Investigate what options your credit union offers for raising "new" cash or accessing existing accounts in a hurry. Credit unions are adding new services at a rapid pace due to technology and software improvements. Still, many options require that you sign up for them in advance.
       Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations--and the limitations--of each option. Do you need plastic? Where can you use it? Are there daily limits on the amount of cash you can obtain? Are other resources available, such as overdraft protection or a home equity line of credit? Can you access your account by telephone or personal computer? Do you need special codes, a PIN, or special software to take advantage of these access options? What fees, if any, apply?
       Most important, be a good credit union member. Lensmeyer, Cromer, and Moffatt all stress that it is credit union members in good standing--those who avoid overdrafts and make loan payments on time--who are likely to be granted temporary loans or increased credit to help them raise cash in a hurry.
Credit union members in good standing are likely to be granted temporary loans or increased credit to help them raise cash in a hurry.

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