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What You Should Know About Credit Unions

Interest facts about credit unions to help you understand how they can support your journey on the road to financial wellness.

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Credit Unions What You Should Know About Financial CooperativesI’m sure you’ve heard about credit unions but still don’t understand what makes them unique. Credit unions are an integral part of the financial services industry offering products and services to over 100 million people. In fact, credit unions are often the only avenue some people have in accessing banking and credit products.

Credit unions can play a role in your financial wellbeing. But, today, I want to share some interesting facts about these financial cooperatives that you might not be aware of.

Credit Unions have a long history

In 1934, President Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Credit Union Act. This established credit unions as an alternative to banks to promote thrift and prevent usury during the Great Depression. Many credit unions have decades of history with members spanning generations. The first credit union was founded in Manchester, New Hampshire as St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association which opened on April 6, 1909.

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives

Like other not-for-profit organizations, credit unions enjoy federal tax exemptions allowing them to offer better rates on savings accounts, lower rates on loans, and little or no fees. Credit unions enjoy this benefit because they are mutually operated without the purpose of profit. Credit unions do pay other types of taxes such as state, sales, and payroll taxes. They contribute taxes back into the community for which they serve.

Credit unions are democratically governed

This means you get a voice and elections are based on a one-member and one-vote philosophy. In contrast, banks are governed by paid shareholders with voting rights depending on the number of shares owned. Make sure you make your voice heard at your credit union by communicating and attending the annual member events.

Over 5,000 credit unions in the United States

Unfortunately, the numbers of credit unions are decreasing through mergers and on rare occasions, failures. Credit unions are highly regulated financial entities and federally chartered credit unions are supervised by the NCUA. The National Credit Union Administration is the independent federal agency that regulates, charters, and supervises federal credit unions. State-chartered credit unions are regulated by the state for which they operate.

Insured by NCUA up to $250,000

The National Credit Union Administration is backed in full faith and credit by the United States Government and administers the NCUA Insurance Fund. Not every credit union is insured or regulated by NCUA. Some state-chartered credit unions have private insurers for deposit protection. When in doubt ask your credit union about deposit insurance.

Credit unions are convenient

The reality is that some credit unions haven’t caught up to the 20th century while we’re living in the 21st. But there are many credit unions that are giving the fintech startups a run for their venture-backed enterprises. Credit unions offer a wide array of convenient services to include access to online and mobile banking, a shared branching network, and thousands of ATMs through the COOP ATM network.

Credit unions offer competitive interest rates

Credit unions are highly competitive when it comes to savings rates and interest rates on loans and credit cards. This is due to the lower cost of operations and the tax exemptions that allow them to invest profits back to the membership. When compared to major banks and big financial institutions, credit unions most often cannot be beaten when it comes to how much you can earn with savings accounts and the interest you’ll pay with credit products.

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Anyone can join a credit union

The myth persists that credit union membership is for the privileged few. In fact, the variety and number of credit unions that exist can mean an overlap of membership. Join a credit union through family members, a job, a church, an organization, or your place of residence. Find and join a credit union that aligns with your financial needs and values.

Once a member, always a member

Once you’ve joined a credit union, you’re a member for life. You can keep your credit union even if you moved out of your city, left a job, or changed churches. Once you’re a member, you can continue using the benefits. And with convenient services offered, it’s easier to keep the credit union relationship. As a member, you can easily help your immediate family members become members too.

Credit unions have member-owners

You’re not a customer or a guest of a credit union. With credit unions, you’re a member-owner and that means having more say in the operation of the cooperative. This is in contrast to big banks that have customers and shareholders (investors that own shares of a bank and don’t necessarily have any banking relationship).

What are your thoughts? Are you a member of a credit union? Good stories? Bad experiences? Share in the comments.

And if you work for a credit union, send a message, I’d love to feature your story.

Jason Vitug

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

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