Credit unions these days offer much more than just savings accounts. Photo: CASE Credit Union

If you're looking for a credit union -- and there are lots of good reasons to do so -- and you're connected to a certain part of Michigan, then CASE Credit Union might be just what you need.

There are close to 7,000  credit unions in America, owned by more than 100 million members. Credit unions have long been alternatives to banks, and they offer some advantages over banks, too. Before delving into those, let's quickly review this particular credit union.

Meet the Case Credit Union
Chartered in 1936, CASE Credit Union has six branches, serves more than 35,000 members, and manages more than $250 million in assets.

These are the folks who qualify for membership:

  • All people who live, work or worship in Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Livingston, Shiawassee, Ionia, and Jackson counties.
  • All students, employees, pensioners, and alumni of any educational institution in the above-named counties.
  • Employers and/or members of various select employee groups.
  • Members of the Michigan Education Association.
  • Donors to CASE Cares, a non-profit organization.
  • Those who are in the immediate family of existing CASE members.
  • Any person who receives a retirement annuity, pension, Social Security, or similar retirement payment from private or government sources, and lives in, or belongs to a retirement organization located in one of the following counties: Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Livingston, Shiawassee, Ionia, Gratiot, Saginaw, Genesee, Oakland, Washtenaw, Jackson, Calhoun, Barry, Kent, and Montcalm.

As with most credit unions, it's very easy to join the CASE Credit Union. You just have to open an account there with at least $5 -- plus a $1 membership opening fee. CASE Credit Union adds, "Once you become a member you have access to all that CASE has to offer. Plus, your membership is for a lifetime regardless of whether you change jobs, move, or retire."

CASE Credit Union offers credit cards. Image: Photo: CASE Credit Union

Why choose a credit union?
So why might you want to choose a credit union? Well, unlike for-profit banks that have incentives to charge you more to profit more, credit unions are owned by their members and are non-profits.

They offer competitive interest rates, usually topping those of local banks. Their service can be better, too. Remember that since banks are in the business of making money, they might steer you toward products or services that serve them more than they serve you. As the Credit Union National Association notes, "Unlike most other financial institutions, credit unions do not issue stock or pay dividends to outside stockholders. Instead, earnings are returned to our members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits, and lower fees." The CASE Credit Union's service philosophy doesn't sound like that of a for-profit bank, aiming, in part, to "[r]espond to members' concerns with feeling and empathy."

Whereas credit unions of yore had relatively few products and services, today they offer a wide range of them, such as savings and checking accounts, credit cards, debit cards, mortgages, new and used car loans, and more. Among the many CASE Credit Union offerings are deposit accounts, mortgages, car loans, business loans, personal loans, life insurance, home and auto insurance, financial advising, service centers, credit cards, text and mobile banking, online bill payment, online banking, and 24-hour account access via telephone.

CASE Credit Union offers mobile banking. Image: Photo: CASE Credit Union.

Credit unions offer insurance, too. Just as bank accounts are protected by the FDIC, credit union accounts are insured  by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund up to a standard maximum of $250,000. 

One downside has been that they often have fewer branches and locations than competing banks, and thus might offer fewer ATMs. But these days many credit unions have networked together and have expanded into other venues with ATMs that members can use for free.

In the past, it could sometimes be hard to join a credit union, as you had to work for a certain company or meet some other criteria. Rules have loosened over the years, though, and now many more Americans can join one. If the CASE Credit Union isn't the right fit, you may be eligible to join another.