Many consumers feel "mugged" by the big banks and their many banking fees, and are moving their money to a community bank or credit union. If you are looking for a credit union, there are a few things you should know. I am looking for a new bank or credit union, given the new debit card fees and poor treatment.
To learn about credit unions, first I visited the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) website. The NCUA is the independent federal agency that regulates and supervises federal credit unions. The NCUA operates the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), which insures deposits at federal credit unions and most state-chartered credit unions. Deposits are insured up to $250,000 per account.
The NCUA website explains what a credit union is and how they operate. Some consumers like credit unions because they believe all banks will ultimately add fees for checking accounts. Besides offering low and no fees compared to the big banks, the attraction of a credit union is:
"... cooperative financial institution that’s owned and controlled by the members. Since they’re not-for-profit, they exist to serve you, the member. Not for profit, not for charity, but for service is a credit union motto. As a member, you have a say in how the credit union is run..."
I like the idea of having a say, since that is not happening at the big bank where my accounts currently are. At the NCUA website, I used the find a credit union to develop a short list of three or four credit unions located near where I live. The tool delivers summary information about each credit union: name, address, phone, CEO name, credit union type, number of members, charter number, status, and other pertinent data. I found this information useful with creating my custom list of prospective credit unions to apply to.
To join a credit union, you have to apply. Some have specific membership criteria; others do not. You will probably want to find credit unions located near you, since their network of ATM machines is not a broad as the big banks. To me, that is a small consequence to avoid the numerous fees charged by the big banks.
To learn more, you can also follow the NCUA on Facebook. Or you can also visit the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) website. While the NCUA website focuses on the needs of consumers, the NAFCU website provides information for both its members and for consumers. You can also follow the NAFCU on Facebook.
The NAFCU also provides a credit union locator tool to find a credit union, and a compare rates tool, to compare the interest rates by type (e.g., savings, mortgages, consumer loans, and credit cards) at credit unions. I found the compare rates tool not very useful, since it only lets you compare all interest rates in a state by type, or rates by type nationally. The compare rates tool doesn't let you compare rates by type within a state.
To be fair, while I like a lot of the information about banks in articles at Bankrate.com, its compare rates tool includes interest rates for a variety of financial products (e.g., checking, savings, CDs, credit cards, mortgages, auto, student loans) at banks, but lacks relevant checking and savings fees. In 2009, this blog first covered the Move Your Money Project (MYMP) website. At that time, the search tool only included community banks. The search tool was upgraded last year and includes both community banks and credit unions.
The Find a Better Bank (FBB) website lets consumers search across both banks and credit unions. I found many of the questions in the FBB search tool intrusive on privacy, and just wanted the site to simply display a list of nearby banks with their key check/savings interest rates and relevant fees.
What search tool have you used to find a credit union or a community bank to move your money to? If you have used any of the above search tools, please share your experiences: good or bad.
[November 1, 2011 Update: In a Facebook message, the NCUA announced today, "We have launched the completely restructured and redesigned www.ncua.gov and rolled out phase II of our consumer-focused website www.MyCreditUnion.gov. The site www.ncua.gov is now exclusively tailored toward the business aspect of the agency, whereas consumer content moved to www.MyCreditUnion.gov with an identity aimed at attracting web-surfing consumers who either want to learn about credit unions or need help with their credit union. The new site incorporates the latest functionality in web technologies and features."]