Minnesota homeowners who want to upgrade their home’s energy performance have no shortage of financing options.
But not all loan products are created equal, and many homeowners are unaware of the unique and affordable terms available through nonprofit lenders such as the NEC.
A Long Legacy of Lending
The NEC’s loan program is powered by the expertise and energy of loan manager Leanne Karras. In her 32-year lending career, NEC Loan Manager Leanne Karras has lent over $30 million to help more than 5,500 Minnesota homeowners make their homes more comfortable with new furnaces, water heaters and additional insulation.
Leanne started out as a teller for Wells Fargo in Florida, where new furnaces weren’t in quite so much demand. She eventually transitioned to consumer loans and mortgage lending, before starting her energy improvement lending career at the nonprofit Energy and Environment Resource Center, which merged with the NEC in 2004.
The Important Role of Nonprofit Lenders
While Leanne enjoyed her time in private sector banking, she believes nonprofit lenders play an important role in the home improvement space:“ We’re not commission-based, so we’re not trying to upsell you on a line of credit or any other financial products. Our goal is to be an impartial third party resource for homeowners.”
Leanne also appreciates the way the NEC’s services complement one another.
“In general, the process of replacing your furnace or adding insulation can be complicated. We’re energy experts, so we can connect homeowners with several other in-house services that can help them met their energy efficiency goals.”
“We’re also very plugged into the local home energy landscape, so if our services aren’t a good fit for the homeowner, we can direct them to the appropriate energy-related resource or organization.”
Though her job involves a good deal of number crunching, Leanne especially enjoys the interpersonal and educational aspects of nonprofit lending. She wants borrowers to make informed financial decisions, and is happy to spend time helping them understand important personal finance concepts such as credit scores and debt-to-income ratios.
A quick look around Leanne’s office shows how much her work is appreciated by the community members she works with.
Her desk and file cabinets are covered with handwritten notes from homeowners detailing the ways in which a new furnace or added insulation has improved their lives. They're a testament to the strong link between energy efficiency and quality of life during the long Minnesota winter:
“I never realized how hard it is to think when you’re cold all the time” says one note; “I feel like a weight has been lifted” says another.
Improving Efficiency Through Forgivable Financing and Low Interest Rates
When it comes to financing, consumers are understandably wary of the fine print, and Leanne commonly has to help potential borrowers understand that there are no strings attached to the NEC’s loan products.
The NEC’s loans are offered in partnerships with government agencies, including Ramsey County and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. This means that the loan terms are geared towards strengthening communities, rather than increasing profit margins through hidden fees and high interest rates.
The NEC’s Suburban Ramsey County Deferred Energy Conservation Loan, for instance, provides up to $6,500 in financing with no monthly payments for a new furnace, water heater or added attic insulation. What’s more, the loan is forgiven after 10 years.
The NEC’s Energy Fix Up Loan, offered to homeowners statewide, is unsecured, but still offers an extremely low fixed interest rate of 4.99%.
While the loan terms might surprise homeowners familiar with other home improvement financial products, Leanne knows they’re in keeping with the wider mission of the NEC:
“At the end of the day, it’s not just about collecting a paycheck—it’s about helping homeowners.”