Credit unions and banks have a lot in common, but there are also significant differences. Unlike banks, credit unions are non-profit financial institutions owned by their members and have certain advantages over banks.
Although they offer many of the same products and services as banks, credit unions also have some disadvantages. Here are the pros and cons of credit unions.
Credit Union Benefits
- Lower lending rates and higher deposit yields. Credit union profits go back to members who are shareholders. This allows credit unions to charge lower interest rates on loans, including mortgages, and pay higher returns for savings products such as stock certificates (or CDs).
- Fees are lower. Federal credit unions are exempt from federal tax. As a result, they tend to charge lower fees and charge lower fees for checking accounts and other products.
- product variety. Large credit unions have product lines that rival many banks, including checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, stocks, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards.
- Insurance deposit. When a credit union is a member of the National Credit Union Administration, member deposits are insured nationwide through NCUA’s Share Insurance Fund, up to a maximum of $250,000 per depositor.
- Personal service. Credit unions are often local or regional, which means service can be more personalized.
- Educational Resources. Credit unions often emphasize financial education, so they often offer seminars, articles, calculators, and other tools to help their members improve their financial skills.
Disadvantages of credit unions
Membership required. Credit unions require their customers to become members. Account holders must meet eligibility requirements to use products and services. However, membership requirements are often lax, and joining can be as simple as depositing $5 into a savings account.
Not the best price. You might find a higher annualized rate of return (APY) on a stock or savings account, or a lower loan rate at an online-only bank that doesn’t include the cost of maintaining branches.
Accessibility is limited. Credit unions typically have fewer branches than traditional banks. The credit union may not be near where you live or work, which can be a problem unless your credit union is part of a shared branch network and/or a large ATM network such as Allpoint or MoneyPass.
Fewer products and services can be offered. Smaller credit unions may not offer as many loan and deposit products as larger credit unions and banks. They may also not offer the latest technologies such as online banking, mobile banking and peer-to-peer payment platforms like cell.
Credit Unions vs Banks: How They Are Different
Banks and credit unions offer many of the same products and services, but there are some notable differences between them.
- Banks are for-profit institutions and typically charge higher fees and require higher minimum deposits and balances to open and maintain accounts. Banks pay taxes, while credit unions are nonprofit entities that do not pay federal taxes.
- Banks are accountable to shareholders who want to maximize profits. Credit unions return all profits to their members by paying higher annual interest rates on deposits and lower lending rates.
- To do business with a credit union, you must be a member, but banks are generally open to anyone. You can go to any bank to apply for a loan or open an account without meeting membership requirements.
- Online and traditional banks typically offer their customers more digital tools, such as mobile banking and online banking. Credit unions, especially smaller ones, may not be as technologically advanced.
A decision between a credit union and a bank
Do you prefer mobile banking to branch banking? Is earning as much income as possible from your savings a priority for you? When deciding whether to join a credit union or do business with a bank, consider what you most need and want from a financial institution.
Once you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, Bankrate’s list of the top major banks and top credit unions can help you find the best option. Make a short list of your favorites, then compare the products and features that matter most to you.
Once you’ve made your choice, it’s time to open an account.
If you’re looking for a higher APY, lower borrowing costs, and closer relationships with financial institutions, a credit union might be a good choice. Consider the pros and cons of credit unions, do your homework, and make the choice that works best for you.
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