How to Choose a Credit Union

Brought to you by Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union

First things first: If you haven’t considered a credit union, you should! They have a lot to offer, including financial solutions you can’t find at conventional banks and good deals on loans, and joining a credit union can be a way to help your community.

Credit unions are typically nonprofit operations owned by their members instead of individuals or conglomerates. What does that mean for you? Any dividends go to the members (that would be you!) instead of shareholders.

These days, credit unions are a good deal.

They usually offer better interest rates on savings accounts and competitive rates on various loans. You might get a much better rate on a student loan, mortgage, auto loan or credit card than you would at a conventional bank.

Selecting a credit union is not difficult. The first step is to research those in your community and their membership requirements. See if you have access to a credit union though your employer or school. Some credit unions are available to employees of specific companies, groups of public service or school employees. Other credit unions extend eligibility to anyone willing to follow their membership requirements. And if you do qualify to join because of where you work or go to school, you’ll probably be able to maintain your membership after you leave. So even if you don’t think you need a credit union now, go ahead and join.

A simple Internet search is an excellent starting point. Develop a list of credit unions in your area. Then narrow your possibilities by researching eligibility, services offer and fees charged by each credit union.

Verify the current interest rates on their accounts. If you can’t find the rates online, call and ask them for the percentages.

Find out if there are any fees associated with the accounts you want to open. As with traditional savings and loan banks, you might be required to pay a fee if you fall below a minimum balance.

Ask about other requirements. For example, you might need to use your debit card a certain amount of times each month or maintain an active account by doing a certain number of transactions.

If you are in the market for a specific loan, research to see if the loan is issued by the credit union. Once you have found several credit unions offering that type of loan, compare interest rates and specials to see who has the best deal.

Once you’ve compiled all the information, compare the numbers with your current bank and see which one works for you.

Of course, convenience is also important. Check for availability of online services, weekday and weekend hours, and where branches and ATMs are located. As a side note, you should also understand any fees associated with ATM or debit card usage. If you use ATMs frequently, especially those outside of your network, those charges can add up fast!

Some credit unions belong to a nation network of credit unions for shared services. That can mean more access to ATMs and other services in case you move or go on vacation. If you have children attending college in other cities, or if you are splitting time in more than one dirty, that can really matter.

Once you have completed your research, you can decide which credit unions are worth a personal visit. Meeting with a representative at your closest branch is a great time to get answers to any remaining questions and learn more about benefits you may have missed. Once you’ve chosen a credit union, make the most of your benefits and enjoy.