Working for You

Published 08/05 2013 11:10AM

Updated 08/05 2013 11:17AM

Working for you

This Christmas I introduced my kids to the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life". Remember George Bailey's Building and Loan Association? Wouldn't it be wonderful if there really was an organization that existed to help people of any means achieve their goals without worrying about the Mr. Potter's of the world taking advantage of them? These organizations still exist. We call them credit unions.

Credit unions began springing up in the early twentieth century as an alternative to the practices of traditional large banks and small loan sharks. They were a way for people within a community to join together and help others avoid more costly lending or saving alternatives. Before "Pawn Stars" became a hit TV show, going to a pawn broker to trade Grandpa's pocket watch for an expensive short-term loan was a hard reality. Credit unions stepped in, like the Bailey Building and Loan Association, to provide an affordable alternative to loan sharks and the increasingly larger banks.

Though the services many credit unions offer may look like those offered by banks, there are major differences between the two types of institutions. Credit unions may vary in name, size and services offered, but each is an independent, not-for-profit financial cooperative. Each is owned by members (customers) who join... there are no outside stockholders to satisfy. Federal and/or state government agencies ensure safe operation of each credit union, and member deposits are federally insured to at least $250,000. Unlike banks, not everyone can join a credit union. You must qualify based on where you live, where you work, family member eligibility or other factors.

One of the most unique aspects of credit unions is a volunteer board of directors, elected by the members (customers) of the credit union. This unique structure helps keep the credit union's focus on safe and sound practices, while making the financial well-being of the members the top priority. This member focus can be seen through fewer fees, better rates, new products and quality customer service that has been ranked #1 in the financial services industry for more than 30 consecutive years.

In 2012 the big banks reported the second highest earnings ever. Their most profitable year was 2006, the year before a few of the largest Wall Street financial companies helped bring the economy to its knees.

Many credit unions also had a successful 2012. Because of the different ownership structure and the focus on serving member-owners, more of the dollars generated by each credit union were recirculated into the local economies.

There are seven credit unions operating in the St. Joseph area. Visit to see where you can bank on more with a credit union.

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