Banks aren't the only option for your daily financial management. Credit unions are financial institutions that work in a cooperative way and offer mostly the same solutions as banks.
Banks are private or public for-profit institutions that are owned by shareholders. They’re licensed to provide a number of financial services: receive deposits, make loans, offer safe deposit boxes, etc. They’re usually large institutions with branch offices and ATMs all over the city.
On the other hand, credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives. Their goal is to help its members by providing credits at competitive rates as well as other financial services.
If you want to join a credit union, you should look first at the membership requirements that may vary depending on the institution. They can ask you to be a member of a specific organization, to be a resident in their vicinity or to be an employee with a fixed salary.
Some of their advantages are that most credit unions offer completely free checking accounts and have lower fees than banks because their main purpose isn’t to make money. As they are member-owned, they don’t have to justify their accounts to any shareholders. They also offer lower interest rates on credit cards and loans.
Credit unions have also a more customer-friendly profile. As they are smaller than banks and usually more connected with their members, they can provide face-to-face service. If you ask for the manager, it’s highly probable that you can get to know him.
This proximity to their customers can also be seen in the non-financial services that credit unions usually offer. An example of these is free seminars on a variety of financial topics to help members become better with their money.
One drawback that is necessary to point out is that credit unions have limited branches and ATMs, which can bring you some difficulties to get access to cash. However, some of them avoid that trap by joining a larger network of ATMs. If you want to be a part of a credit union, you should ask for this item to save you possibles annoyances.