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These days, there are so many choices in financial institutions that it’s hard to choose where you want to keep your money. Not only are there big banks, there are also credit unions, which are known for more personalized customer service and, because they are nonprofits, lower fees than large institutions.

Credit unions work differently from big banks in that all of the money that members deposit in them stays in them and remains available for their customers use only. So, that money gets returned to members in the form of reduced fees, higher savings rates and lower loan rates. Additionally, members of credit unions receive partial ownership of the institution when they join and members elect a volunteer board of directors to manage the institution. Banks, on the other hand, are for-profit institutions that have to make a profit for their shareholders.

If you’re tired of using a big bank it might be time to switch to a credit union. Keep reading to find out how to choose the one that’s best for you.


Look for a Membership Field That Fits Your Situation

If you’re looking for an alternative to the Bank of Americas and Citigroups of the world, it might be a good idea to look into banking at a credit union. Because many credit unions have “defined fields of membership” — meaning they cater to members or employees of certain organizations, companies, schools, places of worship or geographical locations — you can start by looking to join one that fits your situation. For example, you could contact your human resources department and find out if your place of employment has a credit union it uses.

When you join a credit union that caters specifically to your lifestyle needs you’ll likely be happier with its services. For instance, If you’re in the military or you’re a municipal employee, joining a credit union that understands your lifestyle and caters to your financial needs makes your banking life much easier.


Find the Lowest Fees and Highest Interest Rates

Because you don’t want to spend a penny more than necessary of your hard-earned money on banking fees, it’s important to find a credit union with the lowest fees. Credit unions typically offer lower fees — and better interest rates — than big banks, but each credit union is different, so make sure you shop around and find the one not only that you’re eligible to join but the one with the lowest fees and highest interest rates.


Search for Convenient Locations

When you’re looking for a credit union, location is very important. Unlike big banks with ATMs and satellite branches galore, credit unions generally don’t provide this luxury. Find one that’s close to home, and make sure it has strong online and mobile banking services.

Because you’ll want your money to be accessible, look for a credit unions with ATMs — or ATMs in its network — in different locations around your home so that you can withdraw money and make deposits conveniently. Bonus points if it happens to have other local branches nearby.


Find a Wide Range of Good Programs

You should ensure the credit union you choose offers a wide range of programs, including mortgage lending, auto loans, credit and debit cards and good savings and checking accounts. In addition, many credit unions offer financial counseling programs, which is great for anyone looking to up their financial savvy. And a lot of them offer far better deals on checking and savings accounts, such as no monthly fees for checking and high-yield plans for savings. Perhaps most important, make sure you choose a credit union that enables you to handle all of your financial services needs with one-stop shopping.


Find Out About Membership Fees

Credit fees usually have a cost associated with joining. Typically, you can pay an initial fee of $5 to $25 to open an account, which is not much considering the benefits you’ll receive. Some credit unions might also charge a small fee to process opening the account, but you’ll pay membership fees only once, so it’s worth it.


Resources to Help You Find the Best Credit Union

If you have no idea how to start your search for the best credit union for you, there are resources you can use. Try one of the resources below and get started now:

Credit unions are the new “organic” financial institutions. Locally grown and owned, they are often the best choices for those who are looking for a more personal banking experience. Why wait to join? Find the one that’s right for you and take the plunge sooner than later.