Banks and credit unions seem very similar to most people. They both offer deposit accounts and various types of credit. They have many of the same services, telephone banking, online banking and ATMs; but there are some major differences between the two. If you're wondering where to turn for your next personal loan or aren't sure where to open a savings account consider the following differences between a credit union and a bank.
A Credit Union is a member-owned not-for-profit financial cooperative governed by a Board of Directors elected by the credit union's members. The members of a credit union usually have something in common, such as living in the same geographical region or belonging to the same organization.
Credit Unions offer everything from checking and savings accounts to small business loans, car loans, mortgages, personal loans, and more. A credit union's main focus, however, is on savings and it will usually offer higher interest on savings products than a bank. A credit union's not-for-profit status means that any income it earns is given back to its members, usually via lower interest rates and fees.
A bank is a stockholder-owned financial institution. Its main goal is to make its investors money and it does so by investing its customer's money or lending it to other customers. When you make a deposit at the bank you are essentially loaning money to it. The bank pays you back in interest for that loan but the rates vary depending on the bank (consider that 0.05% you're now making on a savings account you opened several years ago when interest rates were much higher).
Banks also make their money in fees (ATM fees, overdraft fees, late payment fees, etc.). Banks carry the same products as credit unions, deposit accounts, IRAs, credit cards, and so on, but unlike a credit union, a bank's products are FDIC insured. (Credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) so funds are still guaranteed should the credit union fail).
While it may seem that banks and credit unions both offer the same products and the only difference is in who owns them, credit unions lead the way when it comes to service. Surveys of bank customers and credit union members consistently show a higher rate of satisfaction among credit union members. And while banks are often able to provide more convenience, in that they typically offer more branch locations, customer satisfaction is not as high.