Big banks are popular for one main reason: they are convenient. I recently took a trip involving six different states, and everywhere I stayed was within a five minute drive of a Wells Fargo, which certainly made it easy to get cash and make deposits. However, if you don't really need the convenience factor, your local credit union could be the way to go. According to a report by WalletHub, there are several good reasons to keep your money local, and some of these might be more compelling than the nationwide access offered by the large institutions.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between big banks and credit unions is the fees they charge. For instance, national banks charge a $14.56 average monthly fee on a standard checking account, and typically require a minimum balance of nearly $5,500 in order to waive the fee, according to WalletHub.
In contrast, the average credit union charges a monthly fee of just $2.03. Credit unions also charge 33% less on average to use a non-bank ATM, as well as about 24% less in the event of an overdraft or insufficient funds charge.
In order to entice consumers away from the bigger, more convenient competitors, credit unions offer more value and features for the money. For instance, 70% of credit unions have no minimum balance requirement or monthly account fee on a standard checking account, as opposed to just 4% of national banks.
Credit unions are more likely to give away features such as online bill pay, and to pay interest on standard checking accounts. In addition, they are less strict about the amount of money needed to open an account, and almost 70% offer reimbursement of fees charged by other institutions' ATMs. Check out the likelihood of finding certain account features at your credit union.
Every little bit helps
Bank interest isn't what it used to be. The days of collecting 3-4% on your savings account are long gone. However, every little bit helps, and choosing to collect lower interest is like giving away money.
A checking account with $3,000 in it at a national bank will pay you around 0.07% interest each year, about one-seventh of the 0.51% rate you can expect from a credit union. While this won't make you rich, and is certainly no substitute for a good investment account, it is a difference of $13 on a $3,000 balance, and will cover some of the small fees the credit union charges.
On a CD, however, the difference is more significant. A lot of people like to keep a good chunk of cash in CDs as part of a safe retirement plan, or to simply have some cash available if needed. The average interest rate on a 5-year CD is 1.56%, nearly triple the 0.59% average at national banks. Over the life of a $10,000 5-year account, this would result in $500 more in returns, which is certainly a significant amount of cash. The difference is pretty significant on other time frames as well.
Other great reasons to ditch your national bank
As my fellow contributor Jessica Alling recently wrote, there are plenty of other benefits to joining a credit union. In addition to collecting more interest on your deposits, you'll also pay less interest on loans and credit cards. Credit unions also get better ratings for customer service, and are more flexible when meeting your individual financial needs.
If you can live without the convenience of having a branch of your bank on every corner, it is definitely worth looking into how much of a difference it would make to switch to your credit union.
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