If you're a member of a credit union, you likely already know their community involvement, competitive rates, and non-profit status make them an attractive banking solution for many people.
But credit unions also can have an extensive national footprint, not just a local one, thanks to their participation in the CO-OP shared branching network. If you're a member of a credit union that participates in shared branching, you have access to thousands of locations in addition to your home credit union.
What Is a CO-OP Shared Branch?
CO-OP shared branches are credit union locations where customers from other credit unions can conduct their banking business. If your home credit union is part of the shared branching network, you can visit any participating branch nationwide for in-person deposits and withdrawals, loan payments, and other transactions.
Hundreds of credit unions participate in the CO-OP shared branching network, with more than 6,000 branch locations. That’s more than Chase Bank and Wells Fargo each have.
Shared branching gives credit union members surcharge-free access to almost 30,000 ATMs at credit union branches, convenience stores, and other locations.
Shared Branch Activities and Limitations
With shared branching, you can visit any participating credit union branch and manage your accounts. Here are some of the banking activities you can perform at a shared branch:
- Deposits and withdrawals: Visit a branch for basic transactions such as cash or check deposits, as well as cash withdrawals. A conveniently-located branch can help you avoid ATM fees when you’re out and about.
- Transfer between accounts: Move money from your savings account to a checking account so that you have funds available for payments.
- Check your balance: Find out how much money you have, what is available for spending, and which transactions have cleared in your account. You may even be able to see a statement of recent transactions.
- Pay loans: If your payment due date is approaching, make a payment that hits your account instantly to avoid late charges, damage to your credit score, and other penalties.
You may be able to complete additional tasks, although those transactions might require you to pay a modest fee. For example, you might be able to buy cashier’s checks or money orders at a shared branch location.
However, there are some limitations when using a shared branch. You can't open a new account at your home branch when you're visiting a shared branch, for example. And withdrawals may be limited to $500, or subject to additional hold times, or both, so find out ahead of time if that might be an issue.
Finally, you may be charged fees when you use a shared branch, which helps them cover the costs associated with participation in the network. Check the fine print of both your home branch and your shared branch to see if fees will apply, so you're not surprised. You can call the credit union beforehand to find out what fees might apply to your intended transaction.
How to Use a Shared Branch
Using another credit union's branch is simple.
- Locate a CO-OP shared branch with the locator tool, the CO-OP app, or by calling 888-748-3266.
- When you visit the branch, bring valid government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.
- Have your home credit union’s name and your account number ready.
Ask the staff at the credit union you visit how to use shared branching. Identify yourself as a member of a different credit union, as you may need to use a deposit or withdrawal slip specific to shared branching customers.
If you regularly visit the same credit union, grab a few extra deposit slips so you can prepare your next transaction ahead of time.
The Benefits of Credit Union Shared Branching
With CO-OP shared branches, you have access to a significant number of locations. As Bill Prichard, Director of Public Relations for CO-OP Financial Services, explains, shared branching “enables ‘the best of both worlds.’ Credit unions tend to be smaller, community-centered institutions—and, as a result, have a reputation for outstanding, personalized customer service.” At the same time, members of small, local credit unions can still conduct business nationwide.
Here are some reasons you may find it useful to use shared branching:
- Travel: In most parts of the U.S. (and in some overseas locations), you can access a CO-OP shared branch. That allows you to dodge ATM fees while on vacation or when you’re away at school.
- Moving: If you move to a different town, you don’t necessarily need to close your accounts and switch everything over to a new bank. Find one or more shared branches that are convenient, and continue to use your old account.
- Emergencies: If you live in an area where natural disasters make travel difficult, or if you’re forced to evacuate, shared branches allow you to keep your finances on track when your home branch is inaccessible.
- Convenience: Even if you stay in the same town, your credit union might be inconvenient while you’re running errands or trying to avoid traffic. There’s no need to go to your home credit union’s branch if you just need to make a deposit.
For services that a shared branch can’t help with, you can open an account locally, or work with your existing credit union by phone or online.
If you want to get a new loan or open a business checking account, you'll need to work directly with your primary credit union. But once you open those accounts, you can deposit and withdraw (or make loan payments) at a local shared branch.
Credit Union or Bank Branch?
There are many reasons for joining a credit union. These not-for-profit organizations are owned by their customers, they typically have competitive rates for deposits and loans, and they are a good bet for free checking accounts.
Thanks to shared branching, more credit unions are able to compete with national chain banks on convenience and access, giving you more choice for your banking needs.