In 2011, the Occupy Movement focused attention on the nation’s credit unions when they launched a national campaign that resulted in 650,000 people  dropping their banks and switching to a credit union. Although that number was later revised lower, 2011 was the year that many people tried their local credit union for the first time.
Still, many of us put our money in big banks because that’s what our parents told us to do. My parents were loyal credit union customers but for a short time I was an unhappy customer at a large bank before switching back to a credit union. Here’s what I learned.
Old Fashioned Business
This story  of a person who switched his accounts from his bank to a credit union is not uncommon and it echoes what I have found after years of banking at a credit union. Credit unions act and feel more like local small businesses than the mega banks. When I make a deposit, they don’t make me fill out a deposit slip because they know me by name. When I have a question, I can get an answer in the office that sits next to the teller instead of having to call a customer service number and when I was a victim of identity theft, it was a painless process that my credit union took care of for me.
Not all credit unions will be as friendly as mine but in my experience with multiple credit unions, the hometown feel is something I appreciate.
Because credit unions are owned by the account holders, they aren’t under pressure to make money for their stockholders. They use the profits to offer better rates on their loan products. The same person above found that his new credit union offered him a 6% interest rate on a credit card compared to the 17% rate that he got from his old bank. When I first joined a credit union, I applied for an auto loan and not only got a better rate but the loan could be paid in full at any time without penalty. Not only have I read about the great rates, I’ve experienced them personally.
The only time you’ll find better rates on savings is with online savings accounts , because they usually have lower overhead costs and can pass those savings to their customers. If you look at traditional brick and mortar banks, they can’t compete with credit unions because they are beholden to shareholders, not account holders.
I was a college student once and like many, I was a bad money manager trying to stretch very limited funds. During that time, I had a negative balance on a few occasions but because the credit union knew my parents, they gave me a free pass on those overdraft fees more than once.
In this story , Liz talks about the same kind of treatment from her credit union. Not only were they more forgiving than a bank, they quickly alerted her when an overdraft took place instead of sending a letter that kept her account overdrawn for multiple days allowing it to amass fees.
Although credit unions offer a more hometown feel, if you’re looking for a technologically advanced bank complete with sophisticated websites and IPhone apps, you may not get that from a credit union. Although their technology is improving, you might have a little more bookkeeping to do when the credit union statement comes in the mail.
Should You Do It?
Although I like my technology, I like the hometown small business feel of my credit union so much that I can do without the IPhone app. Switching financial institutions is difficult but you can try a credit union by opening a small checking or savings account and trying their services before making the large move. If you’re like myself and so many others, you’ll wonder how you lived without a credit union for so long.