Money Smarts

How to Join a Credit Union and Become a Member Owner

You're eligible for credit union membership and it's probably about time you joined one.

For the most part, credit unions aren’t really visible. There not well branded and often harder to find in the places we live. Surely, you can think of multiple big bank locations from the top of your head, but it would take a google map search to find a credit union near you.

However, there are thousands of credit unions all across the United States.They were all founded with the same financial cooperative mission but each has evolved to serve its member group or community better. Some are very small and others are quite large. Credit unions can have a few hundred or a few million members. Each credit union is unique culturally and operationally.

Credit unions have grown to be highly competitive with their products while maintaining a hands-on approach to service.

The biggest credit union misconception is the difficulty in becoming a member. It’s actually not very difficult. And because there are thousands to choose from, you can join a credit union that aligns with your values and offers the products you need.

There are different types of credit unions

Credit unions come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. There will be some credit unions more suited to your personal taste and goals.

Choose a credit union that offers what you need, but also a credit union that shares a common bond with you. For example, a credit union that specifically works with technology employees may offer better mobile apps and tech services. On the other hand,  a credit union for real estate agents may better understand the inconsistency of income.

There are two charter types for credit unions–state chartered and federally chartered.

  • State-chartered credit unions are chartered on the state level much like community banks. An example would be a state employees credit union, such as the country’s 2nd largest, SECU based in North Carolina.
  • Federal credit unions are chartered and federally administered by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). For example, Navy Federal, the largest credit union, is federally chartered serving military personnel and their families.

All federally chartered credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF).

“Like the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund, the NCUSIF is a federal insurance fundbacked by the full faith and credit of the United States government. The NCUSIF insures member savings in federally insured credit unions, which account for about 98 percent of all credit unions in the United States.” –MyCreditUnion.gov

Additionally, a state-chartered credit union may have private deposit insurance and/or insurance through the NCUSIF.

Now, that you know about the types of credit unions, discover one that shares a common bond with you.

Your 4 choices when it come to credit union common bond

  • Employer credit unions serve a particular company or group of companies. You must be an employee of the company to join or belong to an organized union (e.g. teachers, police officers, government workers, etc) or in some cases retired from a company.
  • Group credit unions are based on an affiliation with a particular association. These group focused credit unions include military, church groups, alumni associations, or service organizations.
  • Local credit unions are known as community credit unions. They serve individuals within a specified and defined community boundary. To join a local credit union, you must live, work, or worship in a particular area.
  • Federal credit unions serve a larger group of individuals and joining doesn’t have as many limitations as the others above. Most credit unions in this category serve a national audience.

As you can see, you’re likely eligible for membership in multiple credit unions. And if you can’t find one to join, ask an immediate family member. Most credit unions extend membership benefits to family members. Coincidently as I wrote this article, a friend asked her sister about credit unions and joined. She recently was approved for a mortgage too.

How to qualify for credit union membership

Each credit union has membership eligibility requirements. You’re eligible to join based on employment, affiliation, or location, or related to a member. Each new member must open a membership account.

I’ve found most credit unions require a $5 deposit into an account called a membership account or $5 is held in your first share (savings ) account. This deposit typically earns interest and can be withdrawn once you’ve decided to close your membership.

How to find the right credit union

  1. Start by asking your family, employer, or church. Speak with your human resources department or manager. Inquire if they offer a credit union benefit.
  2. Search online using the National Credit Union Administration locator on MyCreditUnion.gov or through the website, aSmarterChoice.org.

When determining which credit union to join, you want to know the following:

  • do the mission and vision align with your values?
  • are the products and services going to meet your banking and credit needs?
  • are your accounts easily accessible through branches, online, or apps?
  • how easy is it to speak with a live person or get support?
  • what are the fees associated such as monthly service fees, NSF, or ATM fees?
  • how can you access your money (things like shared branching or surcharge-free ATMs)?
  • what additional services and benefits are offered (education resources, workshops, community outreach)?

Are you ready to join a credit union? Any credit unions you love and recommend?

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Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is founder at phroogal, creator of the award-winning project the Road to Financial Wellness, and author of the bestseller and NY Times reviewed book, You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life.

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