We all know how the US economy has been struggling for stabilization. But with the uncertainties of countries in Europe such as Greece, the US can’t help but be swept along with the tide. This of course leads to lowered interest rates with bank CD’s and savings accounts, and to top it all off, banks are now announcing that they will be charging monthly fees to debit cards. With all the hullabaloo going on with our trusted banks, many consumers are starting to look for better options. And right now, credit unions have got their attention.
The popularity of credit unions is slowly growing, but what do we really know about them and what is their difference to banks? Below is a quick comparison of credit unions and banks.
This is where the big difference lies. Banks are for-profit organizations that are owned by shareholders. Since it is an institution where profit is foremost at their minds, this could mean that customers can become a means towards that end. This doesn’t mean that banks don’t care about their consumers, but it does mean that they are still looking to make a profit without driving their customers away.
Credit unions on the other hand is a non-profit organization that is owned by membership. Meaning, once you join a credit union, you will be a member and an owner at the same time. This gives you the right to run for the Board of Directors, and each member will get one vote regardless of how much money he has in the union. The ownership allows members some control on how the union is run, and even the directors are all volunteers without a salary. This process ensures that the union will look out for the financial interest of the members, and not a small group of private shareholders. Credit unions are also allowed to make a profit using the pooled money of its investors, but the reserve earnings is just to ensure the safety of the union in case of economic turmoil. The Board can also agree that once the reserve amount is reached, the excess can be given back to its members in the form of lowered interest rates or even bonus checks.
The only downside to credit unions is its membership. Most CU’s have a restriction with regards to eligibility because the members share a common denominator such as belonging to the same community, or having the same occupation. Bank membership however, is open to all.
Banks and credit unions basically have the same products to offer. Whether it’s savings accounts, checking accounts, loans and certificates of deposit, you name it, credit unions have it too. The advantage that credit unions usually have over banks is that they can offer better rates such as higher interest rates for CD’s and lower mortgage amortizations. Banks on the other hand are often much larger than credit unions and may be able to offer more services and promotions as compared to smaller credit unions. Aside from that, banks also offer excellent online banking services and much more efficient customer service that is available 24/7.
Banks are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company or FDIC for a maximum amount of $250,000 while Credit Unions are also insured by a different entity called National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund or NCUSIF. Some claim that the NCUSIF is arguably stronger than the FDIC. When it comes to choosing banks or credit unions however, aside from checking whether they are insured, it is also important to look at the reputation and the number of years the institution has been in service. Banks are generally larger and thus harder to topple down when an economic crisis hits, and insurance or not, it does take some time before depositors can claim their money should a financial institution closes.
As we can see, both banks and credit unions have their own pro’s and con’s. Banks are larger, considered to be safer, and may offer more services. Credit Unions on the other hand offer better rates, and are geared towards the financial interests of its members rather than private shareholders. It’s really up to the consumer which institution caters to their needs best. What about you? Which one do you prefer?