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The Basic Differences Between Banks and Credit Unions

Jenna Taubel

Jenna Taubel About The Author

Oct 2, 2018 7:28:00 AM

Credit unions and banks may, at first glance, seem to be quite similar. Both types of financial institutions let you open checking and savings accounts, and both banks and credit unions give out loans and let people invest their money in accounts like IRAs and certificates of deposit (CDs). Deposits in both banks and credit unions are also insured by the federal government, albeit under different programs--the FDIC insures banks, while the NCUA insures credit unions. 

However, banks and credit unions are very different, and knowing what those differences are can have a huge effect on your finances. Get Started

Credit Unions are Cooperatives

Banks accept any customers from the public. Credit unions are formed to serve a specific group of people that become members. For example, credit unions may be formed for workers of a certain kind or they may be formed for small businesses of the same type in a local area. Credit unions are also open to the general public within a specific geographic location, known as a community charter. This community charter is generally the city where the credit union is located; some credit unions have a charter that encompasses an entire state, or even the nation itself. A bank is owned by its shareholders; a credit union is owned by its members.

Distribution of Profits

Bank Vault | First Alliance Credit UnionA bank is run as a “for profit” enterprise. Any profits made by a bank accrue to the bank’s shareholders in the form of stockholders dividends and increased shareholder value. Shareholders are not necessarily customers of a bank. Profits made by credit unions are returned to the members of the credit union. Members of a credit union are its customers.

The extra money earned by a credit union, in excess of its operational expenses, is returned to its customers. This comes in the form of higher interest rates paid on savings accounts or certificates of deposits of a credit union and lower interest rates for loans made by a credit union.

Credit Unions Have Lower Fees

Another difference between credit unions and banks is that credit unions are not-for-profit so they can charge lower fees than their corporate counterparts. Credit union members are typically able to get loans that have lowering closing costs because the fees for the loan are less than what a bank may charge.

Credit Unions are Community Focused

Community | First Alliance Credit UnionMany banks that are part of a large organization do not have the same focus on the local community as would typically be found with a credit union. A credit union’s customers are its members, and they come from the local community. When a credit union decides about giving a loan, the needs of the local community usually have priority over a transaction that could be placed elsewhere by a bank merely to make money.

Credit unions are part of a vibrant community and often are extensively involved in community redevelopment. When the customers of a community credit union thrive, so does the community and that, in turn, helps make the credit union stronger.

Discover the Credit Union Difference at First Alliance Credit Union

If you'd like to experience the credit union difference firsthand, become a member of First Alliance Credit Union today. We are proud to serve the Rochester area community, and our members are our friends, neighbors and family. Explore our resource center to discover many of the benefits we offer our members, or please contact us to get personalized information about what we can do for you.

Want more information about the differences between a credit union and a bank? Listen to Episode 2 of our Good Money Moves podcast, which talks in-depth about the differences between a bank and a credit union.Listen Now

We do our best to provide helpful information but we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article, under no circumstance does the information provided constitute legal advice. You are responsible for independently verifying the information if you intend to use it in any way. Additionally, the content is not intended to be reflective of First Alliance Credit Union’s products or services, for accurate and complete details about our product and service information you must speak to an advisor at First Alliance Credit Union.