The Smart Way to Join a Credit Union

If you’ve thought about switching banks to skirt extra fees or just for better services, don’t overlook the option and benefits of joining a credit union too.

Credit unions are known for providing a more personalized experience and most offer the same – though not all – of the financial products that many banks offer.

Credit unions are non-profit organizations and owned by their members so they’re not profit-driven entities. Credit union advocates say credit unions even take the time to educate you about the best financial products. They are also able to pass along some attractive loan rates to all members.

Here are the steps to take to join a credit union:

Find out which “field of membership” you fall under.

Credit unions divide up their members into small groups called “fields of membership”. This includes by workplace, geographic area, school, place of worship and fraternal organization. When you fill out the initial application to join, you’ll need to select one of these fields.

Choose a credit union in your area.

Visit the Credit Union National Association website and click on the link that says “Consumers.” From there, you can perform a simple search based on your zip code and affiliation (field of membership). You can search by distance from your zip code so you are choosing a branch that is as close to your home as possible. Run the search and you’ll see a listing of all credit unions in your area, and their basic requirements. Click through to the main website to find application forms and other information about the branch.

Learn about services available.

While most credit unions offer the same range of products as a bank, some do have limited offerings. Services that most credit unions have include free savings and checking accounts, fee-free ATMs, online banking and bill pay options, and auto and home loans. Find out exactly what the service offerings at your credit union are so you aren’t missing out on something that you really need.

Fill out a formal application.

Many credit unions let you fill out the initial account application online, but you can also fill out the form in-person. You’ll need to decide whether you want to open an individual account or joint account, agree to the disclosure, and provide personal identifying information including a Social Security number, IRS citizenship status and identifying documentation like a driver’s license or passport.

Wait for a response.

Most credit unions will review your application and verify your account within a few business days. If you submit your application in person, they can review it on the spot and get you set up with your account right away. Setting up your account in person will also give you a chance to have pressing questions answered and learn more about the credit union’s policies and services from a dedicated advisor.

Overall, it’s really not complicated to join a credit union.

And even though some people are closing their bank accounts in a switch to credit unions, that’s not required. What is necessary is that you find the best institution possible to adequately and affordably service your financial and banking needs.

If you want to learn more about credit unions, or are undecided about joining one, read Are Credit Unions a Good Alternative to Banks?

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