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About credit unions

While credit unions may perform several of the same functions as banks, the two couldn’t be more different. While banks are corporate-owned entities, credit unions are member-owned cooperatives. Each member of the credit union owners a piece of the organization. These cooperatives are also controlled by their members and make decisions based on what is best for the members of the cooperative. Unlike banks, credit unions are not-for-profit entities.

Since the focus isn’t on profits, credit unions tend to offer their members better rates on services and products compared to traditional banks. The goal of a credit union is to put the profits of the cooperative back into their members, not into the pockets of the executives. There is a minimal profit they are allowed to make to maintain their tax-free status.

There can be credit unions organized on both the state and federal levels. To join, you must meet membership criteria designated by that particular credit union. In the United States, there are 101 million credit union members. These credit unions can be exclusively for employees of a specific state, federal credit unions only for military members or federal government employees, and almost anything in between.

Across the board, customer satisfaction scores for credit unions are higher than those for commercial banks. Members are delighted with their rates and the product assortment offered by their credit unions.


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History of Credit Unions

The first signs of what evolved into modern-day credit unions appeared in Germany in the mid-1800s. Their objectives were to offer services to poor or underserved communities—like rural areas, as well as workers who couldn’t access financial services elsewhere. These institutions grew in popularity and spread across Europe. By 1913 over two million Germans were a part of a credit union. Eighty percent of the people who joined credit unions represented areas with less than 3000 people living in the town.

The first credit union in the United States was founded in the State of New Hampshire, with assistance from the founder of Canada’s first credit union. St. Mary’s Bank opened in Manchester in 1908 for French-speaking immigrants in the town. As the concept of credit unions caught on in the US, most became employer-based institutions.

Currently, in the US alone, there are 101 million credit union members and over 5700 separate credit unions. The largest credit union in the US is Navy Federal Credit Union. The popularity of credit unions has spread across the globe, with many countries embracing this idea for banking. There are currently credit unions in 117 countries with 260 million customers. After the United States, India is the country with the highest number of citizens in a credit union, with 20 million residents as a member of a variety of these cooperatives.

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Insurance and Credit Unions

Some people have always questioned if money is safe in a credit union. Since they are cooperative and not banks, some of the same protections to customer deposits do not apply. This lack of protection has been cited as a reason for people to join traditional banks and shun membership in a credit union.

Traditional banks are insured by the FDIC, which stands for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC was created after the Great Depression. During The Great Depression, there were no protection mechanisms in place to protect consumers from bank failures. Countless Americans lost all their money that was held in deposit at numerous banks across the country. Thanks to the FDIC, should there be massive and widespread failures within the US banking system, customers are covered for deposits up to $250,000 in an individual account.

The FDIC does not oversee credit unions, however. To remedy that problem, the NCUA was born. This is the credit union equivalent to the FDIC. It also ensures your bank holdings up to $250,000. So your deposits are now just as safe in a credit union as they are in a bank. When joining a credit union, look to make sure it is covered by the NCUA. Without this coverage, you lack the necessary protection of your deposits. 

To ensure coverage of more than $250,000, you will need multiple accounts and multiple banks. These safeguards cover up to $250,000 per deposit type per individual. These rules are the same regardless of if you hold your money at a credit union or a traditional bank. 

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