Join a Credit Union
Credit unions are member-owned, nonprofit financial cooperatives that provide many of the same services as traditional banks. Joining a credit union can provide benefits like higher savings rates, lower loan costs, and fewer fees. This guide covers credit union basics, membership eligibility, services offered, and how to join and open accounts.
What is a Credit Union?
A credit union is a financial services organization owned by its members and aimed at benefiting them rather than earning profits. Key characteristics include:
- Member-owned cooperative
- Governed by volunteer board of directors
- Earn profits are returned to members through better rates and lower fees
- Not-for-profit tax status
- Field of membership requirements determine eligibility
Credit unions provide an alternative to profit-driven banks.
Credit Union Membership eligibility
Credit unions have defined membership criteria called a field of membership. To join, you must meet one of the following:
- Live or work in the area the credit union serves
- Be employed by partner organizations or companies
- Have family members who belong to the credit union
- Be affiliated with a particular group, industry, or association
Some credit unions allow nationwide membership while others are highly localized.
Benefits of Credit Union Membership
Joining a credit union offers advantages including:
- Higher interest rates on savings accounts and CDs
- Lower fees and minimum balances
- Lower interest rates on loans like auto loans and mortgages
- Better customer service from the nonprofit institution
- More favorable terms and qualifications
- Access to affordable credit counseling and financial literacy programs
Credit unions aim to maximize value for member-owners rather than pursue profits.
Services Offered by Credit Unions
Credit unions offer similar products and services to traditional banks:
- Savings accounts
- Checking accounts
- Debit/ATM cards
- Online and mobile banking
- Auto loans
- Mortgages and home equity loans
- Personal loans
- Certificates of deposit
- Wire transfers
Many credit unions partner with a network for widespread ATM and shared branching access.
How to Join a Credit Union
To become a member, you must open a savings account with an initial deposit. The process is:
- Verify you meet field of membership eligibility criteria for the credit union.
- Provide required information like SSN, ID, and proof of address to satisfy KYC regulations.
- Make an opening deposit into a new savings account, often $5 or $25 minimum.
- Agree to membership terms, which equates to share ownership in the cooperative.
- Consider opening a checking account to access debit cards, checks, and other benefits.
Once these steps are completed, you become a full member-owner and can utilize all credit union services.
Getting the Most from Credit Union Membership
To maximize the benefits of joining a credit union:
- Take advantage of higher savings rates by opening high-yield certificates of deposit
- Finance autos, mortgages, and personal loans at lower interest rates than traditional banks
- Refinance existing bank debts like credit cards to credit union balance transfers or loans
- Utilize financial planning resources like budgeting assistance and retirement portfolio guidance
- Participate in voting for volunteer board of directors
- Attend local community events, seminars, and networking the credit union sponsors
Fully engaging with the credit union as a member-owner amplifies the value you receive.
Credit unions provide a great alternative for banking needs with their member-first approach. Choosing an institution with eligibility requirements matching your circumstances takes advantage of this nonprofit cooperative model. Membership unlocks higher yields on deposits, lower-cost loans, and a host of other financial benefits.