Celebrating 85 Years of Service

by Thayne Shaffer, President & CEO, America First Credit Union

On March 16, 1939, 59 people met without fanfare at the Hotel Newhouse in Salt Lake City to form a small financial cooperative. The members of that group believed they would be stronger together, and that by pooling their resources they could create opportunities that would be unavailable to them individually. More than that, they believed in the worth of their dreams, and in each other.

That unassuming gathering was the charter meeting of the Fort Douglas Civilian Employees Credit Union—or, as it has been knowns since 1984, America First Credit Union—and those 59 dreamers were our founding members.

Their new organization couldn’t have begun much more humbly—$788 in shared assets that were overseen by a volunteer treasurer who was only available on Friday afternoons from 3:30 to 4:00. I sometimes wonder what they would say if they could see what their simple act of shared belief has become.

As of this writing, we are now 1,363,881 members and growing. We serve communities in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—with robust digital services that give our members 24/7 access from virtually anywhere in the world—and our assets total $19.26 billion.

Those numbers are almost incredible by comparison, and I’m sure our founding members would be beyond shocked by the how many and how much of the credit union they created. But I’m also sure they’d instantly recognize our why—because that has never changed.

On March 16, 2024, we celebrate our 85th anniversary, and throughout those eight and a half decades, our why has always been our members. We exist solely to benefit their financial well-being and to help them have access to the products and services they need to manage and utilize their money, support their families, and grow their businesses. For 85 years, we have been people helping people. That’s the principle upon which we were built, it’s the principle that in turn has helped us to strengthen and support communities, and it’s the legacy we proudly carry forward.

Building on such a strong foundation and heritage has allowed us to vastly expand our offerings, and to establish ourselves as a valuable community partner, leader, and resource, and one of the largest and most successful credit unions in the country. Still, as proud as we are of how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished, we know that people and businesses have increasingly varied options for financial services, which is why we will never stop striving to improve and never stop seeking the best ways to serve each of our members and help meet their unique needs. We are profoundly grateful for the trust our members place in us, and honored that they choose us to help them pursue their goals.

85 years ago, a small group of coworkers, friends, and neighbors placed that same trust in each other as they envisioned what they could accomplish together—for themselves and for anyone else who dreamed of greater financial opportunities and freedom. Today, we are committed to not only continuing to realize that vision, but to building and expanding upon it in ways our founders never could have imagined. We owe them, and every member who has and will come after them, nothing less.

The No. 1 credit union SBA lender is hanging out the help wanted sign

Six years ago, when America First Credit Union in Salt Lake City decided to move into Small Business Administration lending, CEO John Lund gave his team simple instructions. “He told us to be No. 1,” Blake Weathers, America First’s senior vice president of commercial lending recalled.


America First Credit Union in Salt Lake City is angling to grow its 7(a) lending business by hiring additional loan officers.


The $19.1 billion-asset America First responded. Its volume of loans closed under the 7(a) loan guarantee program — SBA’s largest program — jumped from $2.1 million in the agency’s 2017 fiscal year to $3.6 million in fiscal 2018. Fast forward to fiscal years 2022 and 2023, and America First has ranked as the nation’s No. 1 credit union 7(a) lender. In fiscal 2023, it closed 61 7(a) loans for $71.8 million.

While America First would like to continue on a growth path, its progress depends largely on the ability to expand its 7(a) lending team. “We’d like to create greater capacity, but you have to have SBA lenders to do the deals,” Weathers said. “It’s a people business. The number of people we have tells us about where we can get our loans to. We know we’re going to have to add some more loan officers to be able to grow.”

For America First and other credit unions, however, staffing has emerged as a challenge. With experienced SBA loan officers in demand generally, credit unions are doubly disadvantaged since “most of the talent resides in the banking industry,” Weathers said. Though more lenders are signing on with credit unions, according to Weathers, the industry as a whole commands just a fraction of the roughly $30 billion 7(a) market.

According to SBA statistics, credit union 7(a) lenders closed 263 7(a) loans between Oct. 1 and Dec. 21 for $115 million. Banks have generated the lion’s share of the program’s $5.8 billion in fiscal 2024 loan volume. SBA’s fiscal years begin Oct. 1. Under 7(a), the agency provides guarantees ranging from 50% to 85% on small-business loans made by banks, credit unions and other private sector lenders.

“The numbers don’t surprise me simply because SBA lending is a specialized form of lending,” said James Ballentine, founder and CEO of Ballentine Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based government and strategic consulting firm. “There’s special training that’s required to work within [the 7(a)] program. It’s not an area credit unions have traditionally been involved in, despite the fact they were given the authority some time ago.”


America First President and CEO Thayne Shaffer


For America First, entry into 7(a) lending filled a major gap in its product set. It’s also appeared to play a major role in the company’s success in recent years. Prior to 2017, America First offered small-dollar business loans and was active in conventional commercial lending, Weathers said. Adding SBA participation allowed the credit union to take care of a company’s needs throughout all stages of growth. “We can carry them through their life cycle,” Weathers said.

America First’s balance sheet appears to demonstrate the validity of its 7(a) strategy. Commercial lending, which totaled about $329 million at the end of 2017, exceeded $1.2 billion at Sept. 30. Over the same period, net income jumped more than 300%, to $386.5 million at Sept. 30.

“The minute we started to feel comfortable with SBA lending … our members responded,” America First President and CEO Thayne Shaffer said. “We had a willing and ready audience.” States that comprise America First’s footprint, particularly Utah, Nevada and Arizona, are characterized by high levels of interest in small-business formation, Shaffer, who succeeded Lund in 2021, added. “It’s part of the culture, to be honest with you,” Shaffer said. “It’s not uncommon for people to sit down and have ideas and turn them into small businesses.”

“We have a lot of members that own small businesses,” Weathers said. “It’s probably 15% to 20% of our membership.”

John Reosti   Reporter


2023 Annual Meeting Update

Volunteers Dedicated to Serving You

In accordance with America First bylaws, the Board of Directors Nominations Committee has identified three members who will stand for election by acclamation at the credit union’s Annual Meeting on April 18, 2023, at 3 p.m. MDT.

After thorough interviews and qualification screenings, the Board candidates are:

  • Linda Carver
  • Gil Miller
  • James Wendler

These volunteers selflessly give of their time, talent, expertise, and experience to enhance our financial well-being, and we congratulate them on their nominations.

We invite all of our members to watch the 2023 Annual Meeting live video stream by clicking the button below.

In addition, we will have a limited number of seats available to attend in person at our Operations Center in Riverdale, Utah. Click the reservation link below in order to attend in person.

Reserve your seat

2022 Annual Meeting Update

The Nominations Committee has selected the following three candidates to fill the open positions on the Board of Directors at the upcoming America First Credit Union Annual Meeting:

  • Barney Chapman
  • Ted Maxfield
  • Kenlon Reeve

Any nominations by petition must be received by February 28, 2022 at 5 p.m. MST. In order to be considered valid, they need to be signed by at least 500 members, along with a 150-word qualification statement by the nominee. If you have any questions regarding the qualification statement, please contact us.

Members must submit petitions for nominations at the America First Credit Union corporate office, located at 1344 West 4675 South in Riverdale, Utah. No nominations may be made at the Annual Meeting.

If there are no nominations by petition, the election of the Board will be made by acclamation and not by ballots

Proposed IRS Reporting Requirements

The Biden Administration is proposing that all financial institutions be required to report annual information returns to the IRS on the inflows and outflows of all business and personal accounts totaling over $600 in a given year.  If this passes, America First would be required to comply.  The credit union is opposed to this, and we are currently working with our Congressmen and Senators in Washington to express our concerns.

“We don’t trust anyone with our members’ sensitive information”, said Thayne Shaffer, president and chief executive officer at America First Credit Union.  “America First is opposed to being compelled to act as an enforcement arm of the IRS.  Our credit union, board leadership, and industry representatives are acting in the best interest of our members and have communicated this clearly and directly with our elected officials.”

The reconciliation bill has not been finalized and there is discussion of changing the initial proposal of $600 to $10,000.  Changing the dollar amount is not the answer.  This proposal of reporting is a major concern for consumer privacy and must be excluded in its entirety from the Build Back Better Act (BBBA).

Please visit the CUNA Grassroots Action Center for information on how you can contact your Federal Delegation.

Volunteer Service Highlights Annual Meeting

In accordance with America First Credit Union bylaws, four members will be elected to three-year terms on our Board of Directors at the Annual Meeting. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 21, 2020 at the David S. Eccles Conference Center in Ogden, Utah. Incumbent volunteers, who serve without compensation, are:

Linda K. Carver | Gil A. Miller | James G. Wendler | David M. McConkie

Those interested in becoming directors must meet the following minimum standards:

  • Membership in good standing
  • Legal age (18 years or older)
  • Bondable
  • Free from any conflicts of interest
  • Available for all Board of Directors, Committee, and other designated meetings unless excused

Please submit your application and resume to the America First Nominations Committee by 5 p.m. on January 10, 2020. You can complete the process online here.

Nominations by petition are also accepted and must include qualification statements, documents attested to by 500 fellow America First members, and a signed certificate from the nominee stating he or she is agreeable to the process and will serve if elected. Petition applications, which can be completed here, must be received by 5 p.m., February 28, 2020. Nominations are not accepted from the floor at the meeting.

Get in Good Shape Online

Not only is spring a time when folks decide to exercise more regularly, it also presents a great opportunity to get your cyber security self in top shape. And we have a quick & easy workout to help guard against these constant threats.

  • Create complicated social media passwords using numeral-letter combinations, as well as special characters, for each platform. Having just one is an open invitation to criminals.
  • Don’t make phrases short and personal, such as using your pet’s name, birthdays, etc. You might be surprised at how much a hacker can discover about you.
  • Remember to change passcodes routinely, at least once a year. If may take a little time, but avoiding identity theft is worth it.
  • Tighten security settings—companies often alter privacy options or add options without letting you know.
  • Visit us here to see how we’re working to safeguard your information and financial resources.

Choose TurboTax & Save

Get the best refund for less with TurboTax® and America First.

We’re offering exclusive member discounts on the web’s #1 filing software:

  • Easy to use
  • Double-checks your work
  • Searches for every deduction & credit

Go here for details.

Security Update: It’s Time to File—Beware of Scams

As the tax season shifts into high gear, criminals also step up their schemes to rob you. They will impersonate IRS employees, set up fake sites to steal your data and deploy many other tactics.

But there are ways to protect yourself:

  • Dismiss calls, emails and texts from people who claim to represent the IRS—the agency only communicates via mail on official letterhead. Hang up, delete, delete.
  • Don’t pay anyone who says he or she is from the government, needs a pre-paid debit card, and threatens to levy fines if you don’t comply.
  • Never reply to emails, texts, pop-ups or ads asking for your personal or financial information.
  • Don’t do your taxes over public Wi-Fi hotspots vulnerable to hacking.
  • Visit us here to learn more about safeguarding your resources.

It Pays to Stay Cautious When You’re Shopping Online

Many of us find online holiday shopping more convenient than slogging through traffic, looking for parking and dealing with crowds.

At the same time, you need to be on guard when you’re getting gifts electronically. Follow the tips below to keep the season financially safe:

  • Put antivirus software on your devices
  • Visit merchants that have secure sites
  • Read sales, return & privacy policies
  • Keep all receipts

You can find additional security updates here.