Not only is joining a credit union easier that most people think, but becoming a member is also something people may want to consider. NY1's Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
It may look like a bank and it may sound like a bank, but a credit union is actually a different kind of financial institution.
"Unlike banks that are for profit and issue stocks to investors, credit unions are not-for-profit," says Michael Mattone of Municipal Credit Union. "So, our customers, who we call members, get better savings rates and lower loan rates."
Take, for instance, the APRs offered on credit cards.
"If you look at credit unions, it's somewhere between nine and 10 percent, and then for big banks, it's going to be more like 12, 13, 14 percent," says Janna Herron of Bankrate.com.
While Herron points out that only about half of credit unions actually issue credit cards and the limits are usually lower, the upside is that so are fees.
If the word "lower" doesn't grab you, how about "free?" As in, "free checking?"
"You're seeing that disappear at some of the big banks, but a Bankrate's 2013 credit union survey actually found that 72 percent of credit unions have free checking," Herron says.
Even though credit unions have been around for decades, there are still some common misconceptions. Chief among them is the idea that people have to be members of a union to join.
"A lot of credit unions now are community credit unions, where basically, if you work, live or worship in a certain area, you can belong to that credit union," Mattone says.
Consumers may also think that credit unions are less accessible than the banks found on every corner.
"I would like to say that that might be a little bit of a myth, though, because credit unions have banded together so that you can do banking at a branch that isn't your credit union," Herron says.
While you may think bigger banks mean more services than credit unions, Mattone says that's not the case.
"Savings, checking accounts, CDs, money markets, IRAs. For loans, we have auto loans, new and used car loans, credit cards, mortgages," Mattone says.
Federal statutes prohibit credit unions from serving the general public, but a few will allow anyone to open an account, provided they make a small one-time donation to a specific charity.
"I think there's over 7,000 credit unions across the country, and I'm pretty sure that most people will be able to find one that they can become a member of," Herron says.