SECU Review: Everything You Need to Know

A Full Range of Services in North Carolina

man at ATM side view
•••

Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

 

SECU has a wide range of services and many branches in North Carolina. But tech-savvy consumers may want more.

State Employees' Credit Union (SECU) is a large credit union offering one-stop-shopping for all of your financial needs. With more than 260 branches in North Carolina, there’s probably a branch nearby, and you can call customer service 24/7 when you need help. Your funds are federally insured for up to $250,000, and the credit union takes an active role in the community through financial education initiatives and other charitable activities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Extensive branch network in North Carolina

  • Text messaging for quick account information without logging in

  • Forgiving policies for occasional overdrafts on your account

Cons

  • No mobile check deposit

  • Not part of a national network of branches

  • No online account opening

Who is SECU Best For?

SECU offers almost any banking service you can imagine and is well-established throughout North Carolina. Consider this credit union if you want:

  • Low-cost checking accounts with brick-and-mortar access
  • A wide variety of products and services from the same institution
  • A vast network of branches throughout North Carolina
  • Access to over 1,100 CashPoint and PLUS ATMs in North Carolina
  • 24/7 customer service by phone
  • Numerous free document-shredding days for members every month
  • In-branch services like safe deposit boxes and free notary and signature guarantee services
  • A customer-owned financial institution that’s involved with the community

Types of Accounts

  • Checking Account
  • Share Savings Account
  • Money Market Share Account
  • Share Term Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
  • Other types of accounts

Checking Account

The SECU Checking Account pays a modest interest rate on your balance. Although you don’t earn as much as you would with a money market account, you have easy access to your cash with a free debit card, check writing, and online bill payment. SECU does not allow you to set up external bank account links for free ACH transfers, but you should be able to establish those transfers from other banks.

  • Earn 0.25% annual percentage yield (APY) on your checking balance.
  • Pay $1 per month maintenance fee, which SECU donates to charity.
  • Enjoy free overdraft transfers on two payments per year. If you spend more than you have in your account, the bank will transfer money from another account that you designate in advance to cover your payment. Usually there is a fee for this service, but those fees are waived for two instances per year.
  • Pay bills with free online bill payment.
  • Receive a debit card for purchases or cash withdrawals.
  • Open with no minimum balance, as long as you have enough to cover maintenance charges and any checks you choose to order.
  • Get information via text message about your account balance or your last three transactions.

The APY is different from the base interest rate in that it takes into account how often your interest is compounded in a year to tell you more accurately how much you could earn.

Share Savings Account

The savings account, known as a Share Account, pays interest on your money. It's best for funds you don’t need to use immediately. Credit unions use terminology like “share accounts” because customers are also owners of the institution, and this account formalizes your membership.

  • Earn 0.75% APY on your balance.
  • Pay no monthly fees.
  • Open with $25 minimum (and maintain $25 in your account at all times to keep the account open).
  • Withdraw cash and make deposits (cash or checks) at ATMs.
  • Use your balance to help you get approved for cash-secured loans (called Share Secured loans).

Money Market Share Account

The Money Market Share Account pays more interest than the credit union’s checking or savings accounts, but you still have access to your cash. Whenever you use a money market account, be aware that federal law limits certain types of withdrawals to six per month (ATM and in-person withdrawals don’t count toward that limit). SECU does not provide ATM access to your money market balance, but you can transfer money to another account or request funds through a teller or automated system.

  • Earn 1.60% APY on your account balance.
  • Open with at least $250.
  • Pay no monthly maintenance fees if you keep at least $250 in your account.

The SECU money market is competitive for a brick-and-mortar institution, and you get to bank with a local credit union. Online-only banks may pay slightly higher rates, but that might not matter unless you have a significant account balance.

Share Term Certificates (CDs)

SECU offers a variety of CDs with terms between six months and five years. The six-month CD has a particularly attractive rate, but beyond that, online banks tend to pay more. CDs start at $250 and go up from there. Below are SECO's current CD rates:

Share Term Certificates
Term APY
6-Month 1.90%
1-Year 2.05%
18-Month 2.10%
2-Year 2.30%
30-Month 2.40%
3-Year 2.45%
4-Year 2.50%
5-Year 2.65%

Potential penalties: SECU’s CDs are standard term deposits that may assess an early-withdrawal penalty if you take your money out before the CD matures. The penalty amount depends on the original term of your CD.

  • Pay the lesser of 90 days of interest or all interest accrued as your penalty.

That penalty structure is relatively forgiving, especially for longer-term CDs like five-year options. But you'd be better off setting up CD ladders to make money available at regular intervals.

IRAs

SECU offers retirement accounts for individuals and small businesses. Those accounts require a minimum $25 initial deposit and a $25 ongoing balance. The returns are lower than those of many Individual Retirement Accounts that invest in stocks, but the accounts may be useful as one small component of a bigger retirement savings plan. Be aware that the IRS imposes contribution limits and withdrawal rules.

  • Earn 2.53% APY on your account balance.
  • Pay no monthly service charges.
  • Roth IRA, traditional IRA, and Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA accounts available.

Check with a fee-only financial advisor for more information about retirement planning. Most investors need a mix of stocks and bonds, with just a small percentage of their portfolio held in cash.

Loans

You can borrow for numerous purposes through SECU as well.

  • Auto: Like many credit unions, SECU helps you find the right car to buy, and it can finance your purchase with an auto loan.
  • Home: Borrow money to purchase a home, refinance an existing mortgage, or take cash out with a home equity line of credit.
  • Personal loans: Borrow modest amounts for anything you need. Salary Advance loans are designed to provide an affordable alternative to payday loans. Share Secured loans help you borrow money and build credit so that you can qualify for bigger loans in the future.

    Other Types of Accounts

    SECU has a wide range of product offerings. Account options include:

    Health Savings Accounts (HSA): If you qualify to contribute to an HSA (by having an associated High Deductible Health Plan), you can reduce your taxable income, grow your money tax-deferred, and take tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. Learn more about HSAs before you use these accounts.

    • Earn 2.53% APY.
    • Pay no monthly service charges.
    • Roll over any unused funds, which are not subject to annual contribution limits.
    • Pay bills online or with a debit card.

    After you reach age 65, you can withdraw money from your HSA for any reason without penalty. If you withdraw it for medical expenses, the funds won't be taxed; withdrawals for non-medical expenses will be taxed.

    Trust accounts: Members can also open accounts registered to a revocable living trust or special needs trust.

    Investments: As a member, you have the option to meet with financial advisors through SECU. Investments are not insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), and it is possible to lose money in higher-risk investments.

    How to Bank With SECU

    Because SECU is a credit union, you must first qualify to join as a member before you can open an account. Complete eligibility details are available here, but employees of the state and related agencies usually qualify. Family members of those employees typically also qualify.

    Once you’re a SECU member, setting up an account is relatively easy. To find out more, visit ncsecu.org or call 888-732-8562. You can open an account in a branch, or start the process by phone and receive forms by mail.

    You can fund your account with direct deposit, ATM deposits, ACH transfers, wire transfers, remote deposit, or deposits by mail.

    Member Services representatives are available by phone 24/7, which is impressive for a credit union focused in one geographic area.

    Account Fees

    Fees at SECU are straightforward and clearly explained online and in disclosures. Highlights include:

    • Monthly maintenance for checking: $1
    • Insufficient funds: $12 (after two free days per year)
    • Stop payment on a check: $8
    • Overdraft transfer: 50 cents (after two free transfers per year)
    • Returned check $5
    • Cashier’s check: $1
    • Domestic wire transfer: $10
    • International wire transfer: $25

    The overdraft transfer fee is quite low compared to many banks that charge $10 to $25.

    About SECU

    Like all credit unions, SECU is a not-for-profit institution that customers (known as “members”) own.

    Some statistics on SECU:

    • Over $40 billion in assets, making it a relatively large credit union
    • 2.2 million members
    • Founded in 1937 to benefit state employees, public school staff, and their family members
    • More than 260 branches and 1,100 ATMs available in North Carolina

    Deposit insurance: Because the credit union is federally insured, your deposits are covered by insurance administered by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) up to maximum limits. That coverage is equally as strong as FDIC insurance and includes backing from the U.S. Treasury.

    Account security: SECU employs industry-standard measures to protect your information, but breaches are possible anywhere. Traffic is encrypted, and SECU allows you to set up two-factor authentication to further protect your account. In case of errors or fraud in your account, federal law protects you, but protection is limited and you need to act fast.

    The Bottom Line

    Advantages:

    SECU can provide reasonably-priced banking services for people in North Carolina. With a vast network of branches and a broad product offering, you should be able to get your needs met through SECU. Community involvement and free shred days are a nice perk, so you can feel good about working with a local institution. Interest on your checking account is another bonus, although it may not amount to much (especially if you keep most of your money in savings).

    Drawbacks:

    SECU has a strong branch presence in North Carolina, but it could improve its online features (mobile check deposit and online account opening would be helpful). Tech-savvy customers and those who can’t get to branches easily may be frustrated with the experience, but the bank is supposedly working on adding features. Also, SECU is missing one of the best features of most credit union memberships: access to a nationwide shared branching network. Not all credit unions participate, but it’s great when they do.