Credit unions have been a big part of my financial wellness mission playing a big role in my road trips. Of the eight years in banking, I spent a good majority working in the credit union industry. I understand the pros and cons and to this day a big supporter of the movement.
I am often asked about different financial products to use and you will always hear me say, “and go check out your local credit union.” That’s because credit unions are financial institutions that offer many of the banking products we need. Credit unions are really good but they do have some challenges. And although credit unions were all founded on the same not-for-profit founding principles, they each have their own distinct culture, operations, and purpose.
Since most of my community comprises of the under 40 crowd (millennials aka Gen Ys), there seems to be a disconnect even though millennial and credit union values are very well aligned. The big issue I continuously run into is that millennials (and I’m not talking about Gen Zs born after 1996) and credit unions don’t communicate the same language.
Today I wanted to share another millennial perspective on credit unions. This particular story I know you’ll enjoy and embodies the credit union difference. And if you happen to be in the market to try something different, consider looking at your local credit union.
Will, a 25-year-old writer from Omaha, NE offered his personal story about credit unions:
I became a member of my local credit union back in 2008.
I joined primarily so I would have a physical place to deposit cash and checks. Mobile deposit doesn’t work too well for depositing cash. I also understood opportunity cost too well to leave much cash depreciating in my sock drawer.
Beyond the need for a physical institution, I wanted a good interest rate for my money. I began checking rates around town. I started with the obvious-Wells Fargo. Then I called the other banks in town.
The term ‘credit union’ didn’t mean anything to me at the at this point.
But someone told me the local credit union had the best interest rate in town. Turns out my local credit union offered by far the best interest rate! The only drawback I saw was you needed to make a $5 forever deposit that would serve as your one-time membership fee.
A calculator was not needed to know that if I could get 1 point better interest on my checking account, I would quickly recoup those five dollars. Before signing up, I checked for any crazy fees the credit union may use in order to offer the high-interest rate.
I found out there were actually fewer fees than with my old banks!
Before signing up, the personal banker even quietly told me that overdrafts are fine as long as I don’t do them more than 3 times per year.
This all seemed too good to be true.
Whenever I do business with an entity, I try to think of things from their perspective: “why does the organization exist? how will I benefit them?” In this case, “How is it credit unions can offer everything a bank does but with better rates and fewer fees?”
A credit union is interesting.
While banks are for-profit, credit unions are not-for-profit. Whenever credit unions make money, it gets reinvested into the services you use. Members are owners. Yep, apparently I could own part of a credit union for $5. Compare that with the value of a Subway $5 footlong! I think I’ll make a sandwich at home and go buy part of a credit union instead.
But two final questions weighed on my mind before I opened an account: “is my money protected by the FDIC?” “how will I access my money when traveling?” Those were all valid concerns. Especially since my credit union only has two locations on the entire planet!
I looked into these two potential obstacles. Turns out, money held at credit unions is not insured by the FDIC. However, most credit unions are insured by the NCUA. The protection offered by the NCUA is, for all intents and purposes, identical to that of the FDIC.
The next potential problem I sought to educate myself on was my inability to access my money when away from home. In 2008, I had just started college. I was hoping to travel a lot in the near future (which I later did). I found out the good news. My credit union links up with other credit unions to offer no fee ATMs all around the world. For credit unions in these massive networks, it’s easy to find free ATMs.
My credit union coop has an app, website, phone number, and you can even text your current location to ‘my coop’ to find the nearest ATM options.
All of my worries had been withdrawn from my mind. I was ready to join a credit union. Sign me up (literally).
Fantastic interest rates, low fees, and free ATMs were enough to draw me in.
Although as time went on, I began reading the signs around the lobby. Shiny posters with smiling college kids promoted a number of ‘beginner’ credit cards. There were also advertisements for no annual fee credit cards, mortgages, business loans, and heck… any kind of loan. The more I looked around, the more I realized the credit union had a lot to offer. I thought, “It’ll be handy to already be a trusted member when I need more than just a checking account.”
As time went on, nearly every teller greeted me by name.
They called me by name even before handing them checks to deposit. They weren’t just reading my name off them. I remember asking one day how everyone remembers my name. I said, “I only have five college professors this semester. We’re two weeks into classes and I barely know their first names. How do you remember mine when I only come in here a hand full of times each month?” The teller told me she knew my cousin. Another teller heard me give a speech at a college event and remembered my name. Another teller knew my mother. They say credit unions offer excellent customer service. From my experience, they sure do.
Until this point in life, I had only been with banks. This new experience was blowing my mind- a relationship with a friendly business partner, not a faceless corporation.
I began learning more about credit unions. I soon found out two of the biggest financial gurus on the planet, Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, both adore credit unions.
My credit union isn’t unique.
Anyone can join a credit union and indulge in the benefits.
This is good news for you as a reader. Although I wrote this article with my personal experience as an example, all the benefits of membership can be yours. Becoming a member of a credit union is simple.
A lot has changed in my life but the worth of my credit union remains.
I didn’t expect to have so many good things to say about credit unions when I began writing this article. I guess after so many years I’ve just taken the benefits for granted. But now that I’ve written out all the benefits, I’m pretty happy I chose a credit union.
If you’re looking for advice, I advise you to open an account with your local credit union. Make sure they have no outrageous fees, offer good interest rates, are protected by the NCUA, are part of an ATM network, offer many financial products, and have excellent customer service. Wow, that seems like a lot to ask for. But finding a credit union with all of those benefits isn’t a taxing proposition. You’ll find one quickly.
Such an amazing story. Now, I want to hear from you.
What’s your first experience with a credit union?