Let’s start with the basics
As you contemplate moving beyond your piggy bank, the two types of financial institutions that you’re most likely to deal with are banks and credit unions. They offer essentially the same products and services, including savings and checking accounts, credit cards, auto loans, mortgages and investment products, but their values and motivations are very different.
- Member-owned financial co-operative
- Not for profit—excess earnings are distributed to credit union members in the form of profit-sharing, lower loan rates or higher yields on savings
- Run by a volunteer board of directors who are elected by fellow credit union members
- Members can vote on how their credit union is run
- Membership eligibility requirements vary; make sure you check with your local credit union
- Shareholder-owned financial institution—not owned by bank customers
- For profit—profits not shared with bank customers
- Run by paid board of directors, not necessarily bank customers
- Customers have no say in how their bank is run
- Open eligibility; anyone can be a customer
- Owned by you
- No costs, earnings or profits
- Limited features and security
- Susceptible to dust and breakage
Think about your access
Access to money while traveling
- Bank: The big banks have ATMs in most major cities. This will give you free access to your money nationwide. However, if you need to use another financial institution or convenience store ATM, get ready to pay a higher service charge.
- Credit Union: Unlike national banks that have ATMs across the country, credit unions are typically community based, with far fewer locations. However, they often belong to ATM networks that allow you to use other credit union or convenience store ATMs free of charge.
Largest surcharge-free ATM network
- Bank: 16,000, Bank of America
- Credit Union: 30,000, CO-OP ATM Network
Is there an app for that?
- Bank: Banks, especially the larger ones, typically offer great technology. Banking apps will support your love for on-demand banking on your smartphone.
- Credit Union: You may not think that credit unions provide the latest technology; however, most have caught on and provide mobile apps that are comparable to the apps from the banks.
Think about your money
Credit unions have lower fees
- On average, the largest credit unions have lower fees than the largest banks
Average online monthly bill payment fee
- Bank: $6.95
- Credit Union: $0
Average fee to use another financial institution’s ATM
- Bank: $2.21
- Credit Union: $1.07
Average overdraft fee
- Bank: $34.48
- Credit Union: $27.82
Credit unions offer higher yields on savings
- The average credit union account accrues 35% higher interest than a bank account of the same type.
Banks and credit unions are equally safe
- The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) protects the money you have in a federally insured credit union up to $250,000. This is the same protection offered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for the money you might have in a bank account.
Think about your satisfaction
When customers weigh in, credit unions win. Banks fell short of credit unions in the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2017.
- National Banks: 77
- Credit Unions: 82
- The lowest-scoring financial institution is also one of the largest: Wells Fargo, with a score of 74.
Sources: American Customer Satisfaction Index, American Bankers Association, Consumer Reports, Credit Union National Association, Datatrac, Forbes, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, U.S. News & World Report and Wise Bread