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How to Join a Credit Union and Become a Member-Owner

A credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative helping you live your best financial lives through membership.

I believe everyone should join a credit union.

Why?

Credit unions are excellent. And I think everyone should have a credit union as part of their financial portfolio.

I am a fan of any financial institution with a mission greater than profit. Credit unions fit the mission-focused criteria.

Over 130 million United States credit union members belong to nearly 5,000 credit unions scattered across the country, and there are 50,000 credit unions worldwide.

What is a Credit Union?

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives providing financial services to member-owners who have met specific employment, residence, or other eligibility requirements. They are similar to banks in offering similar banking products to members.

Credit unions share a common goal of serving their members, not shareholders. However, each credit union has its own values, including its own way of doing things.

Credit Unions Versus Banks

With credit unions, you’re a member, not a customer, and membership comes with a plethora of membership benefits.

AspectBanksCredit Unions
Products and ServicesSimilar offeringsSimilar offerings
Higher interest ratesHigher savings rates, lower interest rates, and fees
Ownership StructurePrivately owned and operatedOwned and jointly run by members
PurposeProfit-drivenMutual assistance and common goal
Profit DistributionProfits often distributed to shareholdersReinvested back into membership
Member ParticipationLimited involvementActive participation
Financial StabilityFocus on shareholder valueFocus on member satisfaction and stability
Deposit InsuranceFDIC insures depositsNCUA insures deposits
  • Similar but different: Like banks, credit unions offer many of the same banking products and services. However, they often offer higher savings rates and lower interest rates and fees.
  • Financial cooperatives: It’s about mutual assistance and working toward a common goal. A credit union is owned and jointly run by its members in a mutual exchange of providing and using financial services.
  • Not-for-profit: Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions created to serve their members. It doesn’t mean they don’t make a profit. However, the profits made are reinvested back into the membership. By reinvesting the profits, credit unions focus on their members, not shareholders.
  • Active participation: Members support the cooperative by using banking services, loans, and other financial products and services. The income from these services helps the cooperative cover its expenses and remain financially stable and viable.
  • Federally insured deposits: The National Credit Union Administration supervises federal credit unions. The NCUA, a federal agency authorized and backed by the US Government, administers the NCUSIF and provides deposit insurance to member credit unions.

Want to find a credit union? Learn how to join a credit union.

How to Become a Member of a Credit Union

Credit unions come in different sizes and charters, each with a unique culture and operation.

  • State-chartered credit unions are supervised and regulated by the state’s financial services regulatory agency. They may have private deposit insurance or NCUSIF insurance. These credit unions are often open to anyone who lives or works in a designated community.
  • Federal credit unions are administered and regulated by the NCUA, and NCUSIF insures all federally chartered credit unions. Most FCUs have specific membership eligibility criteria.

4 Types of Credit Union Common Bond

Credit unions are founded on a common bond—the link between their members.

  • Employer credit unions: Serves companies and organized unions representing labor, teachers, police officers, and government workers.
  • Group credit unions: Serve affiliations or associations. These group-focused credit unions include military, church groups, alumni associations, and service organizations.
  • Local credit unions: Serve local communities or predefined geographic areas. They serve people within a specified and defined community boundary.
  • Federal credit unions: Serve a larger group of individuals, and joining isn’t as limited as the others above. Most credit unions in this category can serve a national audience.

How to Join a Credit Union

If you’ve wondered about joining a credit union, you’re in luck. You have options. There are many credit unions that you can join. In fact, you’re most likely eligible to join multiple credit unions.

But it’s advisable to choose a credit union that better understands you.

For example, a credit union that works explicitly with technology employees may offer better mobile apps and tech services. Likewise, a credit union for real estate agents may better understand the inconsistency of income as a realty professional.

Need more reasons to join? Read 101 CU reasons.

Step 1: Determine Your Eligibility

There are thousands of credit unions all across the United States. This means you have plenty of choices.

You’re eligible to join a credit union by:

  • having family belonging to a local credit union,
  • living in a particular area,
  • working for a company,
  • belonging to a group,
  • a member of a church,
  • student or alumni of a school,
  • or even by joining an association when you apply.

Depending on the credit union you want to join, each has its own membership eligibility requirements.

Credit unions live with the motto: “Once a member, always be a member.” So once, you joined you can remain a member for life, regardless if you’ve moved, quit the job, or no longer affiliated with a sponsor.

Step 2: Find a Credit Union

  1. Get a referral: Ask your family or friends if they’re a member of a local credit union.
  2. Ask your employer: Many companies offer credit unions as part of employee benefits. Working with a CU that understands your job can help you get better products that meet your needs.
  3. Search online: There are thousands to choose from, and there is a great chance you’re eligible to join many. Find a credit union to join on phroogal.com.

Before joining, you may want to ask the following questions:

  • Does the mission align with my values?
  • Are the products and services going to meet my banking and credit needs?
  • Are my accounts easily accessible through branches, online, ATMs or apps?
  • Can I speak with a live person or get online support?
  • What are the fees associated with having an account?
  • How can I access your money?
  • What additional services and benefits are offered?

Step 3: Establish Your Membership

Most credit unions require a membership share account that establishes your relationship.

You must have this share account to become a “member-owner” of the credit union. The deposit can be anything from $1 to $50. Additionally, this share deposit is “locked in” and cannot be used for your membership. Once you close your membership, you will get the share deposit back.

Credit unions allow you to apply for membership online or by visiting the local branch. To verify your identity, bring your valid ID and proof of address.

Step 4: Open Accounts

After becoming a member-owner, you’re eligible to open accounts at the credit union. They offer

  • Checking and Debit Cards
  • Savings
  • Money Market Accounts
  • Certificates
  • Car Loans
  • Personal Loans
  • Credit Cards
  • Mortgages

Step 5: Support Your Credit Union

The success of your credit union depends on the involvement of its members. Remember, it’s a financial cooperative that exists for your benefit and remains viable with member-owners support. Consider your credit union when looking for credit, loans, financial planning, and more.

Other Things to Know About Credit Unions

Many credit unions participate in the CO-OP shared branch network, giving you access to over 5,000 shared branches nationwide. And many more offer access to over 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs.

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, and founder of phroogal.com and thesmilelifestyle.com. His purpose to help others live their best lives through experiential and purposeful living. Jason is also a certified yoga teacher and breathwork specialist and has traveled to over 40 countries.

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