Banks vs Credit Unions

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Banks vs Credit UnionsI’ve had a bank account for as far back as I can remember.  When I was a kid, I had an account at a savings and loan bank (remember those?!!)  In those days, I was too young to really grasp how good we had it.  Interest rates on savings accounts hit as high as 10% at some points in time.  10%!!!!  Granted, that was an account that my mom had opened for me and had just a small amount of money in it which she opened for me to understand how the importance of saving your money to and get interest on it.

Yup, those days are no longer and that’s a real shame, but it is what it is.  The first bank account I opened myself was in my freshman year of college.  It was with Bank One, which later got acquired by JPMorgan Chase.  Just a reminder, that this was college, so it was all about having a checking account – I’m sure any savings account I had probably had the bare minimum in it!

Regardless, I hung onto my account with Chase for years and years.  In fact, is was only a few years ago that I made the move to switch to a credit union.

A credit union??!!  Isn’t that one of those half-hearted places pretending to be a bank??

I’ll admit, that’s kind of what I thought back in the day.  But then I started to understand what they do a little better.  Credit unions are not-for-profit and their goal is not to gouge all its members out of every penny they can – credit unions aim to serve their members instead.

Wait a minute!!  You’re telling me that these so-called credit unions aren’t going to suck all my blood like my big bank does??!!

That’s correct.  In fact, credit unions generally have much better rates on loans for mortgages and cars than you can get from the big guys.

I decided in 2011 that the big banks had taken enough of my money and I would be better off checking out the credit unions in the area.

So, of course, Chase begged you to stay, right?

Wrong.  In fact, when I went in to close all of my accounts at Chase in 2011 (of about $30k at the time, nonetheless), I had to talk to 3 different people –  including the bank manager.  Do you know that not one of them asked me why I was leaving?  Not one person said “hey, is there anything we can do to keep you?” or “Jim, you’ve been with us forever, did we do something to make you want to close all your accounts with us?”  Nope.  Not a peep.  They just cashed out every penny and said “have a great day!”

Um, ok.  So at that point I already had all my accounts at the credit union and everything was smooth.

Great… so these credit unions you speak of will earn me 10% interest on my savings?

Whoa, whoa, whoa – slow down there, Buckwheat!  That’s a firm negative.  In fact, right now my credit union is only giving me 0.1% on my money.  That’s where you need to leverage an online savings account.  Ally Bank is currently giving me 1% on my savings.  It’s no 10%, but it’s 100 times better than 0.1%!

Here’s the deal – credit unions don’t have everything that banks do.  In fact, I was excited when my credit union finally offered access to Quicken, something that the big banks have offered for years.  The credit unions have gotten a little smarter and combined forces to offer their own ATM network which was a big step forward.

So if you don’t always get the latest and the greatest and you’re not getting stellar payback on your savings, what’s the point?

Well, it’s different for everyone, but for me, I hate the big banks.  I was happy with my branch, but I just don’t like what they stand for and I think this “too big to fail” crap has got to go.  And the only way for us little people to make a change is to put our money elsewhere.  I’m happy with my credit union and they offer me much better rates on various loans.  I refinanced my mortgage under them and had both our car loans under them (before we paid them off).  They also don’t nickel and dime me for everything they can.

Here’s another example of why I love credit unions.  When we first opened our accounts there, my daughter was just over a year old and we had her with us.  Since then, I think I’ve been in there once or twice since then (by myself).  Now, I just called there a couple of weeks ago to inquire about a HELOC and the lady that I talked to was the same one that opened our accounts.  During our conversation, she asked how our daughter was doing and remembered a couple things about her from our initial visit. Now, I know that many of the CRM packages out there are designed to let you put in personal notes about your customers, but I don’t think that was the case here.  I’m pretty convinced by our conversation that she actually remembered us.  They don’t deal with as large of a number of customers as bank chains do so there’s the opportunity to actually get to know each other.

Back in the day, you had to be part of an elite club to get in to credit unions or had to have some connections to get in.  That’s usually not the case anymore.  Head on over to the National Credit Union Administration to find the credit unions near you and tell the big banks to go pound salt!

Are you a credit union member or do you stick with the big banks?  And what are you reasons for staying with where you are?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

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6 thoughts on “Banks vs Credit Unions”

  1. My parents opened my first bank account for me with a credit union when I was single digits old, and have been with them ever since. I do have other accounts, but when we shopped around for a home loan they won (easily) over the bigger banks.

    The small thing I really loved was that I could walk into the branch (opposite my office – very handy) with documents or requests etc and they would say “Hi Tom, how can I help”. No id checks needed. That was taking the AUSTRAC “Know Your Customer” requirements to a new level 🙂 (

    1. I like that PDF! I think the big banks out there probably use a similar document or training and think that that’s what they focus on… except they don’t. And my credit union and your credit union and I’m guessing the credit unions of the majority of people out there actually do follow it. They get to know their customers and with that and great rates, how can you beat it?

      Thanks, Tom!

      — Jim

  2. We actually have both. However, most of my banking is through a credit union. Our mortgage is with a small bank though and I do still keep a checking account at Bank of America. I have had it for years and it is one of those advanced tiered checking with a lot of benefits. Plus, we have my wife’s student loans, car payment, and another bill that comes out of there. It is complicated, but once the debts are gone I will close it down.

    1. Yeah, sometimes it makes sense to take advantage of the banks for something they might have to offer, but in the long run, it’s hard not to make the credit union the go-to.

      Thanks for the visit, Jason!!

      — Jim

  3. We’ve used both over the years and I generally prefer the credit unions for many of the reasons you mention. ATM & international fees always seem to be a lot less expensive too.

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