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How to find a great credit union

Not all credit unions are created alike. Here's how to find the credit unions you're eligible to join and evaluate their services.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 28, 2011 12:36PM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.

 

The Dough Roller on MSN MoneyWith bank fees on the rise, many are looking to take their business to smaller financial institutions. One popular option is a credit union.

 

A credit union is a cooperative financial institution owned by its members. As a result, these smaller institutions often offer banking services at lower costs and with better interest rates.

 

In the Daily Dough, my email newsletter, I asked readers to tell me about their experience with credit unions. We got a lot of positive recommendations, which I'll share below.

 

Finding a credit union is a two-step process. First, you have to find a credit union near you that you can join. Credit unions have different membership requirements, often based on your job, military service, or membership in another organization.

 

Once you find options that you can join, you need to evaluate fees, banking services, interest rates and the like. You can't assume that all credit unions are good deals. In fact, one reader emailed me to complain about his credit union:

Since they are small, there are only a few offices. They are not easy to travel to, I could not get there and back on my lunch hour, so I have to go on Saturday morning. Once the day ends there is no way to contact anyone at the bank. Too bad if you have a problem -- you will just have to wait until the next day to resolve it. For what it is worth, my experience with our local credit union has been terrible. As soon as I get back home I feel I can find a bank that gives me less headaches. The negative outweighs the positive by far with this institution.

Furthermore, credit unions do charge fees. In fact, in 2010 credit unions earned $13 billion in fees, and fee income as a percentage of total revenue has doubled since 2000. Why? With lower interest rates, financial institutions are making less and less on rate spreads.

 

The key is to do your homework. So let's look at a few tools that can help you do just that. Post continues after video.

How to find a credit union

There are several websites that focus exclusively on credit unions. These sites can make finding a CU much easier and faster.

  • FindACreditUnion.com. This site has a very easy to use search function. Simply put in your address, and it returns a list of credit unions in your area. I was surprised to see about 30 credit unions within 5 miles of my home. The search results usually indicate membership requirements. They also provide links to a review of the credit union and a link that takes you directly to the financial institution's website.
  • America's Credit Unions. This site also has a search function, but with a twist. In addition to entering your ZIP code to find locations near you, you can also enter an organization you're associated with. This allows you to search for credit unions based on local governments, businesses, charitable organizations, and so on. I entered our school district and found a credit union we could join based on where our kids attend school.
  • ASmarterChoice.org. In addition to a database of credit unions, this site offers some great resources and news about the CU industry.
  • Credit Unions Online. The last resource in our list offers a directory of credit unions, as well as calculators and news about the industry.

Reader-recommended credit unions

In response to the newsletter, several readers shared their favorite credit unions:

  • Eastern New York Federal Credit Union (Napanoch, N.Y.). It offers an excellent rewards checking account:
    • ATM fee refunds, up to $15 each month, on any ATM you use nationwide.
    • 2.5% APY returns on your balances of up to $15,000.
    • 0.25% APY paid on balances over $15,000.
    • Free checking no matter what, and a base rate of 0.10% APY even if you don't meet the requirements in a given month. No monthly service charges, no per-check fees ever.
  • Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (Kingston, N.Y.). The reader who mentioned Mid-Hudson Valley expressed some concern with its fees. It does offer a free checking account, but it's not a rewards account.
  • Security Service Federal Credit Union (Texas, Colorado and Utah). It offers free checking and a 7.9% fixed-rate balance transfer for life. One thing I've noticed is that credit unions generally don't have the best balance-transfer offers you can find. But if you plan to take years to pay off your credit card debt, a fixed-rate-for-life offer can be a reasonable approach.
  • Wright-Patt Credit Union (Dayton, Ohio). Wright-Patt offers what it calls "totally fair checking," which is basically a free checking account. It also offers a credit card with rates as low as 6.25%. One thing that was a bit disappointing was a low 0.15% on savings accounts. The best online banks offer about 1%.
  • First Bank of Greenwich and Greenwich Bank & Trust (Greenwich, Conn.). One reader recommended these two local banks. Community banks are another alternative to big banks and may have lower fees.

If you know of other credit unions you think should be added to the list, please leave a comment below.

 

More on The Dough Roller and MSN Money:

2Comments
Oct 28, 2011 1:05PM
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Boeing Employee's Credit Union (BECU). Washington. I believe it's now open to all WA state residents. Free checking & the first $500 of your balance earns interest. Lots of Puget Sound area ATM & service centers, on-line banking. They participate in an ATM network that allows you to, among other things, deposit checks at 7-11. Customer service is great!
Oct 28, 2011 5:26PM
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Suncoast Schools FCU in Florida is the BEST! They have 50 branches throughout the state, great hours, and the best products and services! TOTALLY free checking - including checks and debit cards, no minimum balances, no maintenance fees! Auto loans as low as 1.99%! Visa cards have 5.9% balance transfers for life with no transfer fees! I have my mortgage, auto loans, credit cards and accounts with them. They are a one stop shop and their service is top notch. Look them up if you're on the west coast of Florida. 800-999-5887. It will be the smartest and easiest decision you've ever made!
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