Credit Unions vs Banks: Which is Best for You?

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Should you go with a credit union or a bank? Keep reading to find out the difference between credit unions and banks and which one is best for you.

If you don’t know the difference between a credit union and a bank, you’re not alone. Many consumers use the terms interchangeably or just use whichever one is closer and more convenient, without realizing how they operate.

When you’re looking for the best place to keep your money or take out a loan, it’s important to have all the information available to you. Knowing the difference between credit unions vs. banks is the first step.

The main difference between banks and credit unions is this: Although both financial institutions do similar things, each offers different pros for their members. The biggest difference between a bank and a credit union is that a bank is a for-profit institution and a credit union is a not-for-profit institution.

Keep reading to find out the difference between credit unions and banks and which one is best for you.

Is it Better to Use a Credit Union or Bank?

credit unions vs banks

When deciding between a credit union and a bank, it's important to consider your individual needs and preferences. Both institutions offer similar basic services such as checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, and credit cards. However, there are a few key differences to consider:

  1. Ownership and Structure: Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations owned and operated by their members, while banks are for-profit institutions owned by shareholders.
  2. Membership: Credit unions often have membership requirements, such as being part of a specific community or organization, whereas banks are typically open to anyone.
  3. Customer Service: Credit unions are known for their personalized and member-focused customer service, while banks may have a larger customer base and a more standardized approach.
  4. Fees and Rates: Credit unions tend to have lower fees and better interest rates on loans and savings accounts compared to banks. However, this can vary depending on the institution.
  5. Technology and Convenience: Banks generally have larger budgets for technology and may offer more advanced online and mobile banking services. Credit unions may have more limited digital offerings.

Ultimately, the choice between a credit union and a bank depends on your specific financial needs, priorities, and the options available to you in your area. It's a good idea to compare the services, fees, and benefits offered by different institutions before making a decision.

Credit Unions vs Banks Basics

credit union vs banks

Banks and credit unions are similar in some ways: they’re both financial institutions that offer services like checking accounts or personal loans, and can help you manage your money.

But the key difference is in how they operate: for-profit banks are open to everyone, while credit unions and non-profits only offer services to members.

While both offer various financial services, there are key differences between them that can significantly impact your banking experience. Next, we will explore the differences between banks and credit unions, covering their structure, membership, fees, interest rates, technology, and customer service.


Banks are typically for-profit institutions that can be privately owned or publicly traded companies. On the other hand, credit unions operate as not-for-profit organizations owned by their members. This distinction in structure influences how each institution operates and the focus of their operations.


One notable difference between credit unions and banks lies in their membership requirements. A credit union has membership criteria, which can include belonging to a specific community, profession, or organization. Becoming a member of a credit union grants you certain privileges and a say in its governance. In contrast, banks are generally open to the public, allowing anyone to become a customer.

Fees and Interest Rates

Credit unions often have lower fees compared to banks. This is because their primary goal is to serve their members' best interests rather than generating profits. Lower fees can include account maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and ATM charges. Additionally, credit unions are known for offering competitive interest rates on savings accounts and loans. This can translate to higher returns on savings and lower interest payments on loans for credit union members.

Technology and Digital Services

While traditional banks have traditionally been ahead in terms of technological advancements and digital services, credit unions have been catching up. Many now offer online and mobile banking services, allowing members to conveniently manage their accounts, transfer funds, and make payments. However, some may still have a more limited technological infrastructure compared to larger banks.

Branch Network

Banks generally have a larger branch network compared to credit unions. This widespread presence makes it easier for bank customers to access in-person services and assistance. In contrast, a credit union tends to have fewer branches, especially if it's community-based. However, credit unions often establish partnerships with shared branching networks, enabling their members to access services at a wider range of locations.

Customer Service

Customer service is an essential aspect when choosing a financial institution. Both banks and credit unions strive to provide excellent customer service, but credit unions often stand out in this aspect. Credit unions are known for offering personalized and friendly service, as they prioritize building relationships with their members. Being member-owned, credit unions serve the unique needs of their community or group of members.


The money you deposit in banks, including brick-and-mortar banks and online banks, is typically insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Most banks cover up to $250,000 of your funds through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. should something happen to your account.

In contrast, most credit unions (including federal credit unions) carry similar coverage through the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Finding credit unions that offer NCUA insurance coverage doesn't necessarily make credit unions safer than banks. Whether you choose a bank or credit union, you can rest easy that your funds are covered.

What Are the Major Advantages of Credit Unions?

credit union vs banks

Credit unions offer several major advantages that differentiate them from traditional banks. These advantages include:

Member Ownership

Credit unions are member-owned, meaning that each member has an equal say in the institution's governance. This democratic structure allows members to have a voice in decision-making processes, ensuring that the credit union operates in their best interests.

Customer-Focused Service

Credit unions prioritize personalized and member-focused service. They often strive to build long-term relationships with their members and provide tailored financial solutions. This emphasis on customer service creates a more community-oriented and supportive banking experience.

Lower Fees

Credit unions tend to have lower fees compared to traditional banks. Since they are not-for-profit organizations, their primary goal is to serve the best interests of their members rather than generating profits. This can result in reduced or eliminated fees for services such as account maintenance, overdrafts, and ATM usage.

Competitive Interest Rates

Credit unions typically offer competitive interest rates on savings accounts, loans, and credit cards. Members may enjoy higher yields on savings deposits and lower interest rates on loans, including mortgages, auto loans, and personal loans. These favorable rates can help members save money and achieve their financial goals.

Community Focus

Many credit unions have a strong connection to the communities they serve. They often support local initiatives, sponsor events, and provide financial education programs. By supporting a credit union, members contribute to the economic growth and stability of their community.

Financial Education

Credit unions prioritize financial education and provide resources to help their members make informed decisions about their finances. They may offer workshops, seminars, and online tools to enhance financial literacy, budgeting skills, and overall financial well-being.

Shared Branching and ATM Networks

Credit unions often participate in shared branching networks, allowing their members access to services at other credit union branches across the country. Additionally, these credit unions often participate in surcharge-free ATM networks, providing members with convenient access to cash without incurring additional fees.

Social Responsibility

Credit unions often have a strong commitment to social responsibility and ethical banking practices. They may prioritize sustainable investing, support social causes, and operate with a focus on environmental sustainability.

It's important to note that the specific advantages offered by credit unions may vary between institutions. It is recommended to research and compare the offerings of different credit unions to find the one that aligns best with your financial needs and values.

What Are the Disadvantages of Credit Unions?

credit union vs banks
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While credit unions offer several advantages, there are also a few potential disadvantages to consider. These disadvantages include:

Limited Branch Network

Credit unions may have a more limited branch network compared to traditional banks, especially if they are community-based credit unions. This can make it less convenient for members who prefer in-person banking or need access to a physical branch.

Limited ATM Availability

Credit unions may have fewer ATMs compared to larger banks. While many participate in surcharge-free ATM networks, the availability of ATMs may still be more limited, especially outside of their local area. Members may need to plan their cash withdrawals more carefully to avoid fees from using non-network ATMs.

Membership Eligibility Criteria

Unlike traditional banks that are open to the public, credit unions often have membership requirements. These requirements can include belonging to a specific community, profession, or organization. If you don't meet the eligibility criteria of a particular credit union, you may not be able to become a member.

Potentially Limited Service Offerings

Some credit unions may have a more limited range of financial products and services compared to larger banks. While these credit unions typically offer basic banking services such as savings accounts, checking accounts, and loans, they may have fewer options for specialized products or complex financial needs.

Technological Limitations

Although credit unions have been catching up in terms of technology, some smaller credit unions may still have limited digital banking capabilities compared to larger banks. Mobile apps and online banking features offered by credit unions may be less advanced or have fewer features, which could impact the convenience of managing your finances remotely.

Potential Lack of Global Presence

Credit unions generally focus on serving local communities or specific groups of members. This localized approach may mean that they do not have a global presence or extensive international banking services. If you frequently travel or require international banking services, a credit union may not be the most suitable option.

Limited Marketing Budget

Credit unions often have smaller marketing budgets compared to larger banks. This can result in less widespread advertising and brand recognition, which may make it more challenging to learn about and compare credit union options.

Credit Union vs Banks: Which One Is Better?

By understanding the key differences between banks and credit unions, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your financial goals and priorities.

Assessing factors such as membership requirements, fee structures, interest rates, technology, and customer service can help you choose the institution that best suits your personal finance needs.

Remember, when deciding between a credit union and a bank, it is crucial to research specific institutions and compare their offerings before making your final decision.

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About the author

Brian Meiggs
Hi, I'm Brian Meiggs! A personal finance expert, entrepreneur, and the founder of My Millennial Guide. My drive is to help others unlock the wealth of freedom and pave the path to financial success. With my bachelor's degree in finance, I help millennials follow the smart money in order to increase their earning potential and start building wealth for the future. I write regularly about side hustles, investing, and general personal finance topics aimed to help anyone earn more, pay off debt, and reach financial freedom. I have been quoted in major publications including Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, NASDAQ, Discover, GoDaddy, BiggerPockets, Fox News,, Quick Sprout, Money Geek, MSN Money and many more!