Is a Bank or Credit Union Better?

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When it is time to open a new bank account, you should carefully consider all of your options. It is is also a good idea to conduct a banking check up every year or two to make sure the accounts you have are still the best options for you. When you choose the right account for you, you can save a lot of money in fees. Generally, your choices can be broken down into three specific categories. 

Large Banks

A large bank offers several advantages. One of the best advantages is that you can move your account with you when you are transferred to a new area. You may also be able to find the bank's ATMs when you travel. Larger banks offer a wide variety of account options and services. One of the biggest disadvantages is that you are simply an account number to them. You may build a good relationship with a particular branch, but the corporate officers make most of the decisions when it comes to handling your account. If you travel a lot or are transferred a lot with your job, this may be the best option for you. If you are a college student, and you want your parents to be able to access your account as well, you may want to go with a large bank so there are branches in both cities. 

  • Offers multiple locations throughout the country
  • May have online only account options
  • Difficult to form a relationship with bank
  • Impersonal customer service

Small Banks

A small bank is more focused on customer service. You may choose a small regional bank or an even smaller local bank. These banks offer several accounts, but they may not be able to do as much as a larger bank. You may not be able to exchange foreign currency at a small bank, but your account does matter to them. Often the people you interact with do make the decisions regarding your account. The biggest downside is that you will have to change banks when you move. You will also have to use other ATMs when you travel. Be sure that your small bank is insured by the FDIC. Most are, but it is important to verify anytime you open a new account. 

  • Better customer service
  • More choices made at the branch level on loans and fees
  • Fewer branches which means you may have to change banks if you move
  • Fewer services and account types may be available

Credit Unions

A credit union operates differently than a bank. When you join a credit union, you become a member instead of an account holder. A credit union is a non-profit organization. This means that the products that it offers have better interest rates in favor of you the consumer. You can find lower interest rates on loans and higher interest rates on your savings accounts. The customer service is usually much more friendly as well. The fees associated with accounts are much lower as well. Your funds will have the same guarantee as a bank as long as your credit union is a member of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). The biggest disadvantage to a credit union is that you have to qualify to join one, either by where you live or work. You will have to inquire at the credit union to find out if you can apply for membership. There are smaller and larger credit unions, and you may have some of the same advantages and disadvantages of both the large and small bank options depending on the size of your credit union.

  • More personalized service
  • Lower interest rates on loans
  • Higher interest rates on savings accounts
  • Same protections as a bank

Choosing the Best Option

It is important to make the best choice for your situation. Overall, a credit union will offer the best value as far as fees and interest rates go. However, the choice may be based on other factors like qualifying for a lower interest rate on a mortgage by opening an account at a specific bank. It is worth your time to consider all of the options in your area and it will only take a few minutes to review the options online. Be sure to pay attention to the fees and rules with each account you want to open. If you decide to switch banks, take the time to do it correctly. You will need to switch over your automatic payments and direct deposit before you close the first account.

Choosing the Right Account

In addition to choosing the right bank or credit union, it is just as important to choose the best account for your needs. Many banks have minimum balance requirements and the higher the requirement the more perks that come with the account, but the service fees tend to go up, as well. Take the time to review the different requirements for the account and make sure you are choosing the one that will save you the most money. Some banks will waive the service fee if you set up a direct deposit into the account.

Article Sources

  1. MyCreditUnion. "What Is a Credit Union?" Accessed Aug. 6, 2021.