How to choose a credit union

Bernadette Starzee, The Daily Record Newswire

When it comes to banking, many people opt not to go to a bank.

In the United States, there are more than 6,000 federally insured credit unions with 102 million members and $1.2 trillion in total assets.
Within New York State, more than 5 million people belong to the state’s 376 credit unions, whose assets total $72 billion.

Compared to banks, credit unions – which are cooperative, nonprofit organizations that are owned by their members – can typically offer more competitive interest rates on loans and lower or no fees on savings and checking accounts and other services, making them an attractive alternative.

There is no guarantee, however, that a particular credit union will offer a better deal than a particular bank, and fees and rates can vary considerably between credit unions.

If you’re looking for a credit union, do your homework. Visit the websites or make calls to a few credit unions in your area to inquire about rates and fees on the services you’re interested in. For instance, if you’re planning to refinance your home or apply for a car loan, inquire about rates and hidden charges that may apply for those particular products. If you’re simply in the market for savings and checking accounts, inquire about fees and interest rates.

In recent years, many credit unions in the region have expanded the business services they offer. If you’re looking to do your business banking at a credit union, look into which services the credit unions offer and their level of experience at serving businesses that are similar to yours.

Credit unions have also expanded within the areas of investment services and retirement planning. If these services are important to you, find out which credit unions offer robust services in these areas.

Keep in mind that not every credit union you may want to join will have you as a member. Credit unions have fields of membership, which means they are limited to people who fall into a particular category, such as those who live, work, attend school or worship in a defined geographic region. Many credit unions in the region, for instance, have a field of membership that includes most of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

As convenience is of prime importance in today’s busy world, think about how you would like to do your banking at the credit union, and whether it would be a good match. If you’re likely to bank via your smartphone or the internet, find out about the credit union’s capabilities in these categories, and inquire whether customer support is available 24/7.

Some customers prefer to do their banking in the branch. If this is your preference – or even if you would just like to be able to stop in the branch once in a while – be sure to find out if the credit union has locations near your home and/or office, and what their hours of operation are.

For business banking in particular, you don’t want to be just another face in the crowd. It’s best to align yourself with a credit union whose bankers take the time to get to know their business customers. Inquire about whether the credit union would assign a business banker to your account, and meet with this person to get a feel for what he or she could do for your business.

Another important factor is the number of no-fee ATM machines available and whether they are conveniently located to you. Many credit unions belong to large networks of ATMs, allowing members to withdraw cash at no fee well beyond the geographic region served by the credit union.

Similar to FDIC insurance for banks, deposits of up to $250,000 at credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which is administered by the National Credit Union Administration. To further ensure that your money will be safe, visit Bauer Financial’s website (www.bauerfinancialcom) to check out the credit union’s rating.