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Why do business with a credit union, such as Alliant, rather than a bank?

October 14, 2014

By Paul Brucker

In Part 1 of our series of articles in honor of International Credit Union Day on Thursday, October 16, we discuss the key differences between banks and credit unions. 

People sometimes wonder how credit unions like ours can offer such unbeatable savings rates and below-market loan rates. They think that there must be a catch. But there’s really no financial sleight of hand involved. What’s involved is the basic, significant difference in mission and operation between a credit union and a bank.

A bank is a for-profit business owned by shareholder investors. A measure of a bank’s success is how much profit it makes from its customers and distributes to its shareholders. To maximize profits, banks pay lower rates on deposits, charge higher rates on loans, and assess more and higher fees.

Credit unions, on the other hand, operate on a totally different principle.

For one thing, when you join a credit union, you’re not a customer – you’re a member and an owner. Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations owned and operated for the benefit of their members. In a credit union, all income after expenses and capital reserves is distributed back to its members. In fact, a credit union’s mission is to maximize the returns to its members through high savings dividends, low loan rates and low, or no, fees.

In short, while banks take money from their customers, credit unions (such as Alliant) make money for their members.