Are Credit Unions Right for You?

You want to keep your money in a secure place, but stuffing rolls of bills in your mattress isn’t really your style? You might be thinking that a major banking institution is the only place to turn, but there’s another solution that could be (in some cases, literally) right around the corner. Credit unions are locally owned financial organizations that offer many of the same services that banks do, oftentimes with fewer fees and less stringent prerequisites for opening accounts.

Should you choose to put your money in a credit union? The answer to that question depends largely on what you are looking to get out of your financial institution. Naturally, different credit unions have different perks (such as free checking accounts) that might make them a more palatable option for some customers, but may not be as important a consideration to others. To help you decide, here are 3 reasons why a credit union might be the right choice for you:

1. If you want a say in how your financial institution is run

Supporters of credit unions are usually proud to point out that their organization is run in a more democratic fashion than most major banks. They are member-owned, meaning that when you join, you become a shareholder. Practically speaking, this usually means that most of the profit the organization makes is used to offer higher interest rates and lower fees to its members. However, it’s important to remember that a not-for-profit organization is not the same as a non-profit organization.

2. If you do most of your banking close to home

Credit unions are local institutions, and usually tailor their services to support the development of the community they serve. As a general rule, they lack the kind of national coverage that major banks have. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re travelling in a state far from home, you are unlikely to find an ATM from your local organization. However, some small organizations are part of shared branching cooperatives, where members of one credit union can utilize the services of any other organization in the network at no additional cost.

3. If your banking needs are (relatively) simple

If you are shopping around for a place to open a checking or savings account, a certificate of deposit, or for a personal or business loan, it makes sense to include the local credit unions in your search. If you are looking to create a high-powered stock portfolio, you are probably better off sticking with the major banks, who will likely have a team of seasoned investment specialists to guide you.

For some customers, a credit union offers the perfect mix of accessibility and service that they need. Your local phone listings or a quick online search should be able to provide you with the names and contact information for institutions convenient to your area. If you want, you can also ask a friend or a family member for suggestions and advice. Somebody you know should be able to point you in the right direction.