From a consumer point of view, a credit union functions much like a bank. There is some different terminology and paperwork, but credit unions have checking and savings accounts just like a bank, and they often require minimums to hold an account open, much like a bank, and so on. Yet switching from a large bank to a credit union can take some getting used to since you may encounter some issues that you were not expecting. The good news is that these issues usually end up being a positive thing for you.
What Happens if You No Longer Meet the Requirements After Joining?
In order to join a credit union, you have to meet the credit union's membership qualifications. These may be restricted to certain companies or fields, or they may state that anyone in a certain geographical area, like a county, can join. For the most part, once you join the credit union, you should be able to keep your account even if you no longer meet the requirements later on. For example, if you opened an account at a credit union meant for residents of ABC County, and you later move to XYZ County, you should be able to hang onto your account. But if you let that account go dormant, say, because there are no ATMs in the credit union's network where you live now, and you opened a new account elsewhere, the credit union may take action. This all depends on the contract you sign when you open the account, so be sure to ask about what happens if you leave the county or job that made you eligible in the first place.
Are They Part of an ATM Network?
Do you know those ATM network logos on the back of your bank debit card? Credit union debit cards are also part of networks. Sometimes these are the same as other bank networks, and sometimes they're credit-union-specific networks. These networks for credit unions often have no ATM fees, which saves you a lot of money. Always find out if the credit union is a member of these ATM networks.
Are They Connected to Other Credit Unions for Onsite Help?
Sometimes different credit unions will have agreements to let customers from one go to another for help from a teller. This is convenient for people traveling out of state. However, not all credit unions do this—and sometimes one credit union will think they're part of this network while the other credit union does not. If you're going to travel and think that you'll be able to use another credit union in the area you're going to, check with both your credit union and the other one. If there's a discrepancy in the answers, get that straightened out before you go.
Credit unions are great organizations, and you won't regret switching. Just be sure you ask questions so you know what to expect as you start accessing your account.