Dear Liz: I want to stop supporting the greedy banking industry by changing my checking account from a big bank to my local credit union. But I’m worried I will have to give up services I like, such as online banking and free bill payment. What will I give up if I use a credit union?
Answer: You may not have to give up anything, and you may gain a few things, depending on how you bank.
Credit unions are member-owned, which means they don’t have to worry about making profits for shareholders. That translates into better interest rates and lower fees than banks. Many people discover credit unions when they’re looking for auto financing or personal loans, drawn by credit unions’ typically lower rates compared with those charged by banks.
You may find banking with credit unions cheaper in other ways. Most have very low minimum balance requirements for free checking and savings accounts. Many credit unions are also members of the Co-Op Network, which offers fee-free access to more than 28,000 ATMs nationwide, far more than any bank.
That doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone. While most credit unions offer online banking and free bill payment services, for example, their other services may vary. Some offer real estate loans, for example, while others don’t.
Before you switch, you’d be smart to review your transactions over the past few months and think about what loans or services you’re likely to need in the future. Make a list and ask your credit union what it provides and what fees it charges.
If you decide to move, open your new accounts first and set up online access so you can monitor your transactions. Then move any direct deposits you have, such as your paychecks. Change any automatic debits and recurring payments so they come out of your new account. Keep open your old accounts until all payments have cleared, then shut those down.
To find a credit union you can join, visit www.creditunionfinder.com