The difference between a bank and a credit union

Posted: December 15, 2011

SO, WHAT'S the difference between a bank and a credit union, anyway?

The biggest one is this: Banks are what Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" famously called "a profit deal." A substantial share of the income they make goes to shareholders, and executives who create large profits are typically rewarded with high salaries and a big bonuses.

Credit unions, which historically have been created for affinity groups like employees of a company or union members, don't have shareholders. Income stays within the institution to benefit the members, often in the form of more favorable interest rates on loans and deposits.

And typically, credit-union depositors have the same protections as bank customers, with a National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund that protects accounts up to $250,000.

So why stay with a large bank? One potential reason is convenience, since their size means more branches and more ATMs. Conversely, many credit unions still have some restrictions on who qualifies for membership.

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