Deciding on a financial institution is an important task, and while banks are a frequent choice, credit unions have seen a steady rise in recent years due to the personalized service, lower fees, and community focus they offer.

With more financial institutions to choose from than ever, understanding why and how to choose a credit union is increasingly relevant. Credit unions come with a diverse array of missions, products, services, and fields of membership. Read below to learn more about what to look for in a credit union and how to find the right credit union for you.

1. Location

While many banking needs can be met online these days, having a physical branch nearby and staff in the same time zone as you can offer a personalized service that’s increasingly rare. And since many credit unions are community-based, you are almost certain to find a credit union branch near you. When considering what to look for in a credit union, reflect on how often you might want to visit a branch, use a network ATM, or contact a staff member. This can influence the importance you place on a credit union’s branch location.

Since local credit unions support their surrounding communities in many unique ways, it can be another mutually beneficial reason to choose one that’s close to home. Many credit unions even have teams dedicated to carrying out the charitable giving and volunteerism that are integral to their missions. If that’s important to you, explore the credit union’s website and social media pages to find out how it’s supporting the local community.

Like many credit unions that started during the Great Depression, WECU was founded by local teachers in 1936 at the Roeder School in downtown Bellingham. With over 140,000 members at the time of this writing, WECU now has 10 branches, a Home Loan Center, a Business Banking team, and numerous ATMs in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. To learn more about WECU’s branches and ATMs, check out the full list of WECU Locations.

2. Membership Eligibility

Understanding who can join a credit union is key when you’re picking the right one for your financial needs. Unlike other financial institutions, credit unions operate as community cooperatives and foster a sense of belonging among members with common bonds or affiliations.

Credit unions are legally required to establish a “field of membership,” which defines the group of individuals they intend to serve. This field ranges from narrow to broad and can be based on factors like residency, employment, or organizational affiliation. For example, some credit unions might limit membership to a particular industry such as education or healthcare, while others might focus on people who live in particular geographic areas, or belong to a particular school, union, church, or social group.

It’s important to consider this membership criteria when asking yourself, “Which credit union should I choose?” For instance, anyone who lives, goes to school, works, or worships in Washington State can become a WECU member. WECU welcomes members of all ages and stages of life, providing products and services for each step of the financial journey. WECU encourages youth to build strong financial habits though our First Step accounts. Learn more about becoming a WECU member on the About Us page.

3. Offered Products & Services

When selecting a credit union, make sure it offers the products and services that will suit your financial needs over the long haul. While credit unions typically provide essential products like checking and savings accounts, many go beyond the basics to offer a diverse range of solutions. These can include various loan options, credit cards, mortgages, and investment opportunities.

At WECU, the member journey begins with Youth Accounts for kids and teens, which encourages youth members to build strong financial habits. For adults, WECU offers a full suite of financial products including Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts, Personal Loans, Credit Cards, Home Loans, and many other products and services aimed at meeting members’ goals and needs.

When figuring out how to pick a credit union, it’s also important to consider the online banking features a credit union offers. Popular online banking features include mobile check deposits, e-statement access, and transfers. WECU’s Online Services include an online banking platform and mobile app where members can securely manage accounts, make mobile deposits, transfer money, access e-statements, and more. Click here to learn more about WECU’s Member Benefits.

4. Compare Fees, Account Requirements, and Interest Rates

Comparing fees, account requirements, and interest rates will ensure you’re getting the best deal when considering how to choose a credit union. Thanks to their not-for-profit structure, credit unions are often able to offer more favorable terms than banks, including lower loan interest rates, minimal fees, fewer account requirements, and competitive credit card rates.

For a deeper look at a credit union’s fees and rates, visit the rates and disclosure fees webpage of the credit unions you’re considering. Exploring the finer details can help you determine how to find the right credit union. For more information on WECU’s rates and fees, visit the Rates and Disclosure Fees pages.

Credit unions tend to have lower minimum balance requirements and fees for various services, making them a more accessible option for those seeking affordable solutions. For example, many checking and savings accounts at WECU only require $1 to open.

5. Dividends

Unlike banks, where profits benefit shareholders, credit unions return earnings to members in a variety of ways, including dividends. Researching the dividend rates offered by different credit unions can help you maximize your potential returns on Savings Accounts, savings certificates, interest-bearing checking accounts, and more.

When considering what to look for in a credit union, researching dividend rates can help members find a solution that not only meets their banking needs but also maximizes their earning potential.

6. Customer Service

Unlike for-profit institutions, credit unions prioritize member needs over profits, cultivating a more personalized approach to customer service. By building strong relationships with members, credit unions create a welcoming and supportive environment where members feel valued and empowered in their financial decisions. This personalized approach, often called the Credit Union Difference or CU Difference,  sets credit unions apart and reinforces their commitment to serving members’ best interests while fostering trust and loyalty within the community.

When considering how to choose a good credit union, it’s worth researching what level of customer service the credit union offers by exploring their website, calling their customer service line, or visiting a branch. For example, do they offer support in-person as well as by phone, chat, and email? Is there a number to call after hours? Do they offer personalized customer service and guidance for your unique banking needs?

7. Security and Insurance

When deciding how to pick a credit union, understanding the security and insurance protections provided is paramount. As member-focused financial institutions, credit unions invest heavily in the security of their members’ funds as well as the protection of their personal information.

When it comes to insurance, credit unions are typically insured by the National Credit Union Association (NCUA), covering up to $250,000 in deposits per member. When considering what to look for in a credit union, select one with NCUA insurance for both peace of mind and financial protection. WECU is federally insured by NCUA.

Visiting the security pages of a credit union’s website can also provide insight into their in-person and online banking security measures. For more about WECU’s commitment to the security of its members, please visit Security and Digital Security.

WECU was recently named the healthiest credit union in Washington State. With over 85 years of experience, WECU’s time-tested commitment to safe and sound business practices defines our legacy. We invite you to learn more about WECU and our offerings.