Banks and credit unions may have many similarities on the surface, but there are some pretty big differences between the two. For example, banks are owned by shareholders whereas credit unions are owned by members.
So, which type of financial institution is right for you? In order to answer that question, you'll have to figure out what you want to do with your money, what kind of access you want to have, and which one will give you the most satisfaction.
Here are some factors to consider when deciding on a financial institution:
Banks are open to anyone. Credit unions have membership requirements, but don’t let that intimidate you! Requirements can be as simple as living in a certain community or working in a certain field.
Are there any fees associated with opening an account? Is there a minimum balance required? Joining a credit union involves purchasing a share, but this is different from a fee—it means you’re a member-owner of the credit union.
You might feel as though you see larger bank ATMs everywhere, but credit union ATMs are just as accessible. In fact, the largest credit union ATM network is actually larger than the largest bank ATM network. Free ATM transactions are not limited to machines with a particular credit union name on them—Find out which other financial institutions share your local credit union’s network.
More and more financial institutions are offering online banking services. Find out what you can do from your computer and smartphone. Can you check your balance? Schedule payments? Transfer money between accounts? Taking advantage of online products can be super-convenient, and can avoid a trip to the ATM or the nearest branch.
And speaking of which, how close is the nearest branch to you? Find out what the hours of operation are and how they work with your schedule. Find out if you can bank through other branches, too. This could come in handy if there’s a location close to work or school.
Ask about products that are tailored to your situation. How do the interest rates compare to other financial institutions? Are there free services that look helpful? Don’t settle for a financial institution just because you need an account—you should also want to have an account there.
At the end of the day, choosing a financial institution is a personal decision with a huge influence on how you manage your money and your time. If you make the effort to ask questions and compare services, you’ll find the best home for your finances.