At least 650,000 Americans joined credit unions in a recent four-week period, more than in all of 2010, according to a survey by the Credit Union National Association. Many of them have shifted to credit unions in disgust over what has been happening at their banks—namely, higher fees, new fees and new requirements to avoid fees, even though several major banks have backed off from plans to charge up to $5 each month for the use of a debit card. And people who switched have been happy to find that in many cases, credit unions have become as easy to join and use as banks.
Here are some of the most convenient ways to take advantage of better rates and fewer fees at credit unions…
ATM AND BRANCH NETWORKS
In the past, credit union members were limited to a few locations when they wanted to make transactions, especially deposits. That has changed dramatically…
The Co-Op Network. More than 1,400 of the 7,200 credit unions in the US belong to this network, which gives credit union members surcharge-free access to more than 28,000 ATMs across the US and Canada, including machines at retailers such as 7-Eleven, Costco and Walgreens. About 9,000 of these ATMs allow members to make deposits, too. To locate ATMs, go to www.Co-opNetwork.org.
The Credit Union Service Center Network. If you join a credit union that belongs to this network, you can walk into any of more than 6,700 branches of other credit unions and use them as though they were your home branch, including making deposits and withdrawals. To locate participating branches, go to www.CusWirl.com.
Other ATMs. In addition to the credit unions that belong to one of the networks above, most credit unions belong to bank ATM networks such as STAR, Pulse, Cirrus and NYCE, which allow access to tens of thousands of ATMs around the country. However, when you use one of these ATMs, you may be charged a fee by your credit union, as well as a surcharge by the owner of the particular ATM that you use. But some credit unions don’t charge a fee and reimburse you in full or in part for ATM fees that you are charged by other institutions.
DEPOSITS BY COMPUTER
Some credit unions make it easy to make deposits by allowing you to scan a check into your personal computer.
Example: If you become a member of Digital Federal Credit Union (www.dcu.org), whose branches are in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you can deposit your checks by scanning them into your computer with a scanner or digital camera, or scan them into an iPhone or Android smartphone. Membership is open to anyone who has worked for, or is related to someone who has worked for, one of several hundred participating employers…or you can become a lifetime member by joining an organization such as Reach Out for Schools or American Association of People with Disabilities (membership fees range from $10 to $29).
HOW TO FIND THEM
To search for credit unions by location or by the organizations that they are affiliated with, including companies, schools or places of worship, go to www.CreditUnion.coop.
To search by the best rates on certificates of deposit (CDs), high-yield checking accounts or savings and money-market accounts, go to www.DepositAccounts.com.
Credit unions that are easy to join…
Pentagon Federal Credit Union. This credit union, which serves US government employees, also is open to people who make a onetime tax-deductible $20 donation to the nonprofit National Military Family Association or who are employees or volunteers of the American Red Cross. It also is open to relatives of anyone who is eligible to join. PenFed has more than one million members and more than $15 billion in assets. The yields on its CDs are among the highest in the nation—for instance, 2.75% annually on a seven-year CD recently. And it recently offered four-year new-car loans at an annual interest rate of 1.99%. www.PenFed.org
Alliant Credit Union. This credit union, which serves residents of the Chicago area and has more than 300,000 members, also is open to US citizens who make a onetime donation of $10 to a charity called Foster Care to Success, which serves foster teens across the US. The yields on its accounts—recently 1.15% on a savings account…1.1% on a high-yield checking account…and 2% on a five-year CD of at least $25,000—top those at most banks. And its Visa Platinum credit card charges no fee for balance transfers. www.AlliantCreditUnion.org