The bad publicity of the big banks' debit card fees and the Facebook-driven Bank Transfer Day have been a big win for credit unions. The Credit Union National Association reported on the results of an interesting nationwide survey of credit unions:
At least 650,000 consumers across the nation have joined credit unions in the past four weeks, reflecting consumers' reactions to rising fees at banks, according to a survey by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA)
According to The Huffington Post only 600,000 consumers joined credit unions in all of 2010.
One thing that may have discouraged credit union membership in the past is misconceptions about credit union qualifications and the services credit unions offer.
Qualifying for Credit Union Membership
Credit union have limited membership, but joining a credit union is probably easier than you think. All credit unions have a field of membership (FOM) in their charters that defines who can join. This can be based on the community where you live, where you work or what associations you belong to. Fortunately for us savers, FOMs have expanded in recent years making it easy to join many credit unions based on where you live or the associations you belong to.
For many credit unions you can join an association which makes you eligible for credit union membership. Also, once you are a member of a credit union, you can remain a member regardless of what happens to your original qualifications. So you don't have to maintain the association membership to continue to be a credit union member.
Here are three large credit unions that make it easy to join via an association:
- Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed) is best know on this blog for its consistently competitive CD and IRA CD rates. Also, PenFed's reward credit cards are well known.
- Alliant Credit Union has a savings account and checking account that beat the best internet banks in terms of both rates and online banking features. Alliant also has great rates on its HSA, CDs and IRA CDs.
- Digital Credit Union (DCU) has very competitive CD and IRA CD rates. DCU is part of the shared branch network and several surcharge-free ATM networks. Its free checking account offers many perks including remote deposit and free optional monthly FICO credit scores.
Banking Services at Credit Unions
PenFed, Alliant and DCU provide online banking services that easily meet or exceed what internet banks offer. This is now common among many credit unions as described in the credit.com article Not Your Grandmother’s Credit Union. Some interesting stats mentioned in the article include:
- 97% of credit unions offer web-based home banking
- 94% offer online bill payment
- 47% offer mobile banking
- 71% belong to a surcharge-free ATM network
One stat it didn't mention is the number of credit unions that belong to the shared branch network, the CU Service Centers. This network allows members to perform many banking transactions at branches of other credit unions and self-service locations belonging to the network. Out of the three credit unions mentioned above, only DCU is part of this network. Alliant ended its shared branching membership last March. The shared branch network concept is very appealing to me, and I'm surprised more credit unions aren't members.
If you want to maximize the benefit of switching, check my post from yesterday on Bank Transfer Day Promotions at Credit Unions. For more info on credit unions and checking accounts, please refer to my post Finding the Best Free Checking Accounts at the Best Credit Unions.