People have been complaining about the big banks for years now. When people get fed up and begin to look for other places to put their money, the same two choices are always suggested: a community bank, or a credit union.
So it’s great to know that there are other options, but with community banks and credit unions always being lumped together into one suggestion, it almost seems like they are interchangeable, when really, they are two quite different options. So how do you differentiate between the two?
Of course you know our vote…*coughcommunitybankcough*…but our choice isn’t completely biased. We know some spOOky facts about credit unions that we would like to share with you.
They might not let you in...or out.
Okay, fine…you are always free to leave a credit union, but you have to admit, that added a spooky twist to the heading! Credit unions are, however, selective about who they allow to join. You generally must meet a specific requirement in order to become a member. So maybe once you’re in, you will be reluctant to leave, even if you have a good reason.
They offer low credit card rates...but there's a catch.
Credit unions often advertise low credit card rates. What they don’t tell you is that with these great rates come not-so-great rewards programs. If you are working on paying off credit card debt, then a low interest rate may be all that matters to you. However, if you always pay your bill in full, the interest rate really shouldn’t matter, and your focus should be on what your credit card provider can do for you.
Fees are on the rise.
One of the biggest complaints about the big banks is their constant seemingly exponential increases in fees. Credit unions pride themselves in having lower fees than banks, but what they don’t tell you is their fees are on the rise as well. It is important to note that with both banks and credit unions, fees will never stay constant, for many reasons. Your safest bet for minimizing fees, wherever you put your money, is to make sure you have accounts that are right for you. This may require you to switch account types every so often. Switching to a credit union simply because their fees are lower right now is not a safe bet in the long run.
Your accounts are all tied together.
To protect themselves against risk, credit unions often have cross-collateralization clauses. What does this mean? Any item being financed or pledged as security will also secure any other debts you have or may have in the future with the credit union. For example, if you have both a credit card and a car loan through your credit union, your car will be used to not only secure your car loan, it will also be used to secure your credit card debt. Legally, credit unions must disclose this to you, but don’t expect to find this information on a flashing neon sign. It will likely be disclosed to you somewhere in fine print, so this cross-collateralization clause often comes as an unpleasant surprise to the people it affects.
Your deposits may be at risk.
Unlike banks, credit unions are not regulated by the FDIC. Less regulation means credit unions are able to use your deposits more freely and take more risks than banks. The majority of credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration, but this is not a requirement for state-chartered credit unions. Before throwing all your money into a credit union, make sure your deposits will be insured, and check the insurance limits.
You won't get as many bells and whistles.
In general, when it comes to account features, credit union accounts give you the bare minimum. Simple. Boring. Raise your hand if this was you five years ago: “Internet? On my PHONE? I don’t need all that, I just want a simple, practical phone that allows me to make simple phone calls.” Now, if you are like most people, you look back and laugh at your old credo. You may be thinking along those same lines when it comes to your bank account. You don’t need any fancy additions - you just simply want a safe place to put your money. But why settle for that when you could get more features and benefits out of your accounts?
No matter where you put your money, it is important that you research the facts of the financial institution, and compare these facts with your current financial situation. The right financial institution for your neighbor might not be the right one for you.
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