Why Belong to a Credit Union?

by Deb Perini

Many people ask, “Why should I belong to a credit union? I already have a bank account, and I do not need more credit.” Consumers often assume that they either are not eligible to join a credit union or that it is only for financing—not for their everyday banking needs.  

To better explain why people should join a credit union, consumers should understand the cooperative principles that drive the operations of credit unions.  

Voluntary Membership – Credit unions are private, membership-based institutions and the requirements of membership vary depending on the institution. A credit union must limit its offerings to people who share a common bond, such as occupation or designated communities. Membership does not expire. Even if members leave an employer who made them eligible to join the credit union, they can keep their membership. 

Democratic Member Control – Owned by its members and governed by its unpaid voluntary Board of Directors, credit unions do not have external stockholders. Membership with a credit union means you become what we refer to at Members 1st as member-owners. Credit union members become part of something bigger than just a financial institution; they become part of a true cooperative. Whether members have only met the minimum balance requirement or have a six-figure balance in their account, all members have an equal level of participation in determining the credit union’s direction. 

Member Economic Participation – Acting as a not-for-profit, financial cooperatives, credit unions were founded on the idea of members pooling their money and lending to others as needed. The philosophy of credit unions is “People Helping People.” Because they are non-profit, any profits earned by credit unions are returned to members in the form of lower fees, higher rates on savings accounts, and lower interest rates on loans. 

Autonomy and Independence – Credit unions are self-help organizations governed by their members. They are extremely safe and have their own version of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which is the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).  

Education, Training, and Information – Credit unions look out for their members by promoting financial wellness, offering programs about money management for all stages of life, including budgeting, reading and understanding a credit report, avoiding and overcoming identity theft, and more. At Members 1st, when your business becomes a Select Employer Group (SEG), one benefit you receive is complimentary financial literacy presentations to your businesses’ employees and members.  

Cooperation among Cooperatives – Credit unions are convenient, with a network of thousands of surcharge-free ATMs and Co-Op-shared branch networks across the United States. Credit unions are often locally operated. As non-profit organizations, credit unions make decisions based on the best interest of the credit union movement and its members, not the organization’s bottom line.  

Even in the age of digital banking and robust technology, Members 1st understands that our members still enjoy taking care of their banking needs face-to-face. We remain focused on expanding our footprint to continue serving members in branches across Central PA. In 2021, we commemorated our entrance into our eighth region, Berks County. In 2022, Members 1st plans to open several branches in the Lehigh Valley. 

Community Mindset – Credit unions are focused on their members’ needs, but they also understand their role related to the communities they serve. Many credit unions ask their leaders to serve on local non-profit boards and are active in giving back to the community through volunteerism and charitable contributions. Credit unions are committed to serving community members who face challenges gaining financial services elsewhere.  

It is this commitment to service that differentiates credit unions from other financial institutions. At Members 1st, we exist to strengthen our communities because our communities are stronger when we come together as one. It is why our associates volunteer thousands of hours each year to local charities and causes. And it is why we donate to help non-profits in the regions where we do business. 

Most people do not realize that they qualify for credit union membership and remain with their current financial institutions because they are unaware of the alternative. Credit unions provide a different financial experience—one where you come first and where becoming a member is far easier than you could imagine.  

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the credit union movement and determining eligibility requirements, please visit www.ibelong.org. The credit union movement welcomes everyone and looks forward to helping all members to live their best financial lives. For more information about Members 1st, visit members1st.org.  

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