By Cynthia Minuti, Chief Experience Office, Ardent Credit Union
Since leaving the banking industry and moving to Ardent Credit Union, I’m frequently asked, “What’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?” The short answer is, everything!
For starters, credit unions (CUs) are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits, make loans, and provide a wide array of other financial services.
But, credit unions are member-owned, cooperative institutions. Banks have stockholders for whom they are responsible for making a profit. Profits made by credit unions are given back to the membership in the form of dividends and better loan and deposit interest rates.
The cooperative structure of credit unions creates a cycle of mutual assistance toward the common goal of the financial well-being of members. In short, banks have stockholders and customers (typically, two different groups with very different objectives), CUs have members who are also owners.
The next most common question I get is, “Is my money insured at a credit union, as it is at a bank?”
Again, the short answer…yes! The only difference is the insurance company, NCUA versus FDIC. The vast majority of credit unions are federally or state chartered, insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which provides essentially the same insurance coverage on deposits as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures bank deposits.
Unlike banks, credit unions attribute its cooperative nature for surviving the “great recession,” remained unscathed, and managed to operate and sustain growth with no need for government bailout .
At this point, the next question has to be, “How do I join?”
Joining a credit union is probably easier than you think. All credit unions have a field of membership (FOM) in their charters that defines who is eligible to join. This can be based on the community where you live, where you work, or what associations you belong to. FOMs have expanded in recent years making it easy to join many credit unions.
For instance, at Ardent Credit Union, anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or goes to school in, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, or Delaware counties is eligible to become an Ardent Credit Union member.
Once you are a member of a CU, you can remain a member regardless of what happens to your original qualifications. If you move to a new city or if you change employers, you can remain a member of that same credit union.
Many folks are concerned about the ease of banking with credit union because of its typically smaller branch and ATM networks. Well, thanks to the cooperative nature of credit unions, shared branching and expanded ATM networks are available at most credit unions.
Here’s how it works: Free ATM access can be as widespread as a big bank and sometimes more, due to an array of national ATM networks in which CUs participate. This gives you surcharge-free access to thousands of ATMs around the country. Additionally, branch access can be as widespread as a big bank because many credit unions belong to a shared-branch network.
This allows you to perform many banking transactions at an office of another credit union which is also part of this network. This gives you access to thousands of branches around the nation. In addition, CUs offer online, mobile, and remote deposit technologies…just like big banks.
At Ardent Credit Union, our members may take advantage of more than 85,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. There are more than 5,000 shared-branches available for our members to access their Ardent accounts.
With shared branching, credit unions from all over the country share facilities to give members thousands of convenient locations to perform transactions just as if they were in their home credit union.
Ardent Credit Union is a Philadelphia-based credit union that was originally founded in 1977 by the employees of the SmithKline Corporation.