Pros and Cons of Banks Vs. Credit Unions

What to Know Before Taking the Leap Forward With Your Business Banking

Credit Union sign
••• sshepard / Getty Images

Business owners have several options for where they store their cash, develop credit, and take out business loans. If you're looking for a new banking solution for your business or personal finances, consider the pros and cons of banks and credits unions carefully before making a decision about what type of institution makes the most sense for you.

What Is a Credit Union?

A credit union is a financial institution owned by members with common economic interests. For example, teachers may decide to form a credit union full of teacher-friendly investments, or people from a common location may decide to form their own credit union to borrow and lend money locally. Credit unions are set up as nonprofit entities, meant to provide affordable financial services to their members.

Differing Interest Rates on Deposit Accounts

If you want a savings account that accrues the highest possible interest, depositing your company's funds in a credit union may be a better option than a bank. Credit unions often pay higher interest rates on all deposit accounts including savings accounts, checking accounts and money market accounts, and depositors generally earn a greater amount on their deposits from local community banks and credit unions.

Traditional banks have never offered interest rates better than credit unions, and in most cases, only online banks have rates that are comparable to those offered by credit unions.

Loan Rates

As a business owner, it's crucial to know the variety of ways you can acquire loans to grow your business, as well as the amount you're likely to be charged in interest over the lifetime of those loans. Identify lenders that charge the lowest interest rates on loans and lines of credit.

Mortgages, personal loans, business credit cards, business loans, and business lines of credit given by credit unions are relatively cheaper compared to traditional banks. Traditional banks often charge rates that are a point or two higher compared to what's charged by credit unions. Thus, getting a mortgage or business loan from a credit union is generally the cheaper route.

Transaction Fees

This is another significant difference between credit unions and banks. Credit unions, because they are community oriented, tend to charge a smaller amount of fees on different transactions as compared to banks. Most credit unions do not have a minimum required balance on checking accounts. Moreover, they do not charge a monthly account servicing charge. This can save your business hundreds of dollars per year.

Additionally, most transactions such as checks, withdrawals, and electronic transactions are also free of charge. Credit unions also charge fewer (or smaller) fees on bounced checks and overdrafts, and usually charge less on their daily transactions when compared to banks.

Flexibility

Many people who have dealt with both banks and credit unions might tell you that credit unions are easier to deal with compared to traditional banks. Many times, credit unions will readily accept people with a poor credit history, as they have less stringent regulations as compared to traditional banks.

On the other hand, banks have many branches and have a large number of customers. The probability of a bank declining your loan application due to a low credit rating is very high. After all, losing one customer is not an issue to them. If you're a member of a credit union, your application may go through even if you do not meet all the requirements.

Technological Advancement

Since credit unions are smaller in size and often have fewer members compared to banks, they can lack web-based features such as online check deposit or budget notifications. Credit unions that have an online presence may only allow customers to do simple transactions, such as transferring funds and checking recent account activity, but little else.

With traditional banks, the online interfaces can allow you to see recent activity, transfer funds to another account, apply for credit cards, apply for loans, and even pay bills. Traditional banks may have a stronger online presence and functionality compared to credit unions.

Financial Product Offerings

Credit unions offer fewer financial products in comparison to banks. Traditional banks have a variety of checking accounts, distinct types of loans, different credit cards, and even a wide range of mortgage loans to choose from. This gives the customer freedom of choice since there exists a wide range of products that suit personal and business needs.

Credit union members are limited to only specific financial products that the credit union specializes in. This may be a big limitation for a large business but perhaps not much of an issue with small to mid-size businesses.

Access to Physical Locations

Unlike banks that have physical branches nation wide, credit unions only operate from a few locations. This means that if a member relocates to a different city, it could prove more difficult to make transactions. Furthermore, the limited online presence of most credit unions can require members to be near a physical branch to perform many common transactions. This is changing as more credit unions are adapting to the online needs of their clientele.

When choosing where to bank your business, take the time to review the pros and cons of each institution at your disposal, and decide which will best serve the needs of your business. There are no rules against using both.