Though credit unions have been around for nearly a century, some consumers are still unclear about exactly what they are and what they do.
Credit unions, which are essentially member-owned financial cooperatives, gained popularity in the 1920s as a way to meet consumer demand for inexpensive credit so families could buy larger-ticket items like cars and appliances — at a time when banks were less receptive to such requests. The National Credit Union Administration set up shop in 1970, and today more than 7,000 credit unions nationwide serve more than 100 million customer accounts. Here, we answer some questions we commonly get from new members.
Q: Are credit unions FDIC-insured?
A: Only banks are covered by the FDIC, but we are covered in equal amounts by the government-funded NCUA. The U.S. is one of only 113 countries worldwide to enjoy such protection, which offers free peace of mind to anyone operating a checking account, savings account, money market deposit account, or CD (also known as Certificates of Deposit) accounts in amounts of up to $250,000. Sometimes, higher amounts are insured depending on the account ownership and whether qualified beneficiaries are listed.
Q: I have more than $250,000 to deposit. How can I get more insured at no cost?
A: Ask us. You may gain more coverage depending on the type of deposit account, account owners, and whether qualified beneficiaries are involved.
Q: Why are credit unions considered not-for-profit?
A: While we must generate some profit for overhead and growth, our main goal is service to the community. Whether that means better deposit and loan rates or little-to-no-cost banking services, we exist to serve our communities and contribute to area sustainability. Unlike banks, we aren’t required to provide a big portion of profits to shareholders and we can offer small personal loans. Credit unions were founded so community members could pool savings to provide loans to others, and that commitment hasn’t changed.
Q: How else are credit unions different from banks?
A: In several ways:
- We are nonprofit and member-owned, whereas banks are owned by shareholders/stockholders.
- We offer better rates on deposits and loans.
- We offer products banks can’t offer due to the slim profit margins, including home equity loans and personal loans starting at $500.
- We work in cooperation with each other, whereas banks directly compete with us and with each other. Credit unions frequently band together for fundraisers, grassroots efforts, awareness campaigns, and any other causes in which we align.
Q: How are credit unions and banks alike?
A: We offer many of the same types of banking products and services, including checking accounts, savings accounts, auto loans and mortgages.
Q: If credit unions are in cooperation with each other, why the different loans and deposit rates?
A: Banks and credit unions are both governed by boards that decide rates according to their institution’s individual need for loans and deposits. For example, those needing more auto loans may set lower auto-loan rates.
Q: Can I negotiate for better rates at credit unions?
A: No. The Fair Lending Act prevents both banks and credit unions from offering discounts and deals. You can’t haggle for a better rate, even if your favorite teller wants to give you one.
Q: How is loan approval different at credit unions versus banks?
A: Because credit unions are about people helping people, we tend to look at the big picture when making a loan decision, considering your financial stability, payment history, and time at your job and residence, in addition to your credit score. Banks tend to go with a hard yes or no; either you fit into the box, or you don’t.
In addition, credit unions offer small personal loans when banks can’t. If you live in Austin and your air conditioner goes out in July, for example, your Austin-based credit union representative likely empathizes and can help you pay for repairs. We look for every possible way to help.
Q: Can I get a loan from you without being a member?
A: You can apply for a loan before becoming a member, but you will become a member once you actually accept the loan. There are no membership fees at Amplify or most other credit unions, and membership comes with its own perks. Years ago membership was more elite, but today many credit unions are open to entire communities. Amplify, for example, welcomes anyone who lives, works, or attends school in Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Williamson or Bastrop Counties, along with their family members.
Q: What does credit union membership include?
A: Our usual low loan rates and higher deposit rates; voting rights at our member annual meetings and special elections; and many free amenities including bank checks, free coin counter, ATM fee reimbursement on free checking accounts, etc. You’re also part of our cooperative and our mission of giving back to the community.
More About Credit Unions
Curious about the growing credit union movement? More and more people are joining credit unions every day, preferring to do their banking with a member-owned financial cooperative instead of with traditional banks. Learn more here about how Credit Unions Offer the Highest Savings Rates, or check out our list of reasons why Credit Unions Are the Best Place for Your Savings. Or if you're ready to become an Amplify member and start earning more on your hard-earned savings, you can get started here.