Credit Union vs. Bank? Which Should You Choose?

Commentary by Victoria Gillespie


For more than 100 years, credit unions have been helping people achieve their dreams. Whether it’s to help them buy a home, buy a car or send their child to college, credit unions return what they earn to their members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher rates on savings and fewer service fees.

Today, especially during these volatile economic times, credit unions are viewed as both safe and strong financial institutions. In the past year alone, the credit union industry added more than 2 million new members (customers) and surpassed $1 trillion in assets. Consumers are choosing credit unions because of their cooperative business model and philosophy. As member-owned, not-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions exist to benefit members (not stockholders.) In other words, they are designed to put people over profit.  In addition, credit unions are known for delivering warm “family-like” customer service to their member base.

Credit unions differ from commercial banks in that they do not issue stock or pay dividends to outside stockholders. Earnings are returned directly to members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits and fewer fees. Credit unions also typically have low or no minimum account balance requirements, making their accounts both more attractive and cost-effective than those offered by banks.

Funds on deposit at both commercial banks and credit unions are federally insured. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) provide individual depositors with deposit insurance up to $250,000 backed by the full faith and credit of the United State Government (same insurance, different agencies). The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is an independent federal agency that oversees credit unions and insures accounts in federal and most state-chartered credit unions across the country through NCUSIF.

Accessibility can be an area where banks and credit unions often differ.  Since credit unions are often smaller in asset size than banks and have fewer locations, many consumers may be concerned that they will not have complete access to their credit union accounts or convenient banking options such as fee-free ATMs for cash withdrawals when needed.

However, today, with technological capabilities this is no longer an issue.  For example, at REALTORS ® Federal Credit Union, a division of Northwest Federal Credit Union, our members have access to over 33,000 surcharge –free ATMs, 5,000 Shared Branch Service Centers nationwide and six full service branches in Northern, Va. Shared Branching is a network of credit unions that allows members to make deposits, withdrawals and loan payments at convenient locations near their homes or offices.  Our credit union also offers online banking and remote capture or scanned deposits to its members so that they can conduct their banking electronically, any time of the day or night, at their convenience.

Ultimately, what makes credit unions unique is that we are chartered with serving a particular field of membership—we are not open to the general public.  All REALTORS® and their immediate family members are eligible for lifetime membership with REALTORS® Federal Credit Union.

Our Credit Union was developed by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® as a true benefit for REALTORS® with our defining proposition of tailoring products and service to meet the unique needs of our REALTOR® members.  

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Victoria Gillespie is the national director of Business Development, REALTORS® Federal Credit Union, a division of Northwest Federal Credit Union.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.