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Even if you’ve seen a credit union in your town, you may not have given much thought to what they are exactly. Credit unions are financial institutions just like banks, but with a few key differences in how they operate. Here’s what to know about the main differences between credit unions and banks, and how you can decide which institution is right for you.
How is a credit union different from a bank?
For the most part, banks and credit unions work the same way: Both institutions accept deposits, make loans, and provide a wide array of financial services.
However, what makes the different is their profit model. Banks are for-profit, while credit unions are member-owned not-for-profit institutions. That means when you open an account and deposit money in a bank, you become a customer. When you open an account with a credit union, you become part of a member-owned financial cooperative. Like with a bank, you must meet certain requirements to join a credit union, which will vary depending on how a credit union is organized.
Choosing between banks and credit unions
When you’re considering opening an account at a bank versus a credit union, it’s important to identify what you’re looking for in a financial institution.
- Interest rates: Credit unions typically offer better interest rates on savings and loans, largely due to the fact that they don’t have the same need as the banks to turn a profit.
- Convenience: Banks tends to have more branches, ATMs, and better mobile apps compared to smaller, local credit unions.
- Customer service: Member-owned credit unions are known for offering a more personalized experience compared to major banks.
The bottom line
Both banks and credit unions also offer equal safety for your money via federal-government-backed insurance. Because of their differing profit status, credit unions tend to offer a more personalized experience, but without all the convenience that comes with major banks. When you’re deciding between banks and credit unions, consider which trade-offs matters most to you.
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