Ask Gabby — Credit Union Difference

Ask Gabby is a new series answering questions that I have received from friends. If you have a question about how to be more financially savvy or just need budgeting, saving or couponing tips you can just ask, me — Gabby! Facebook, tweet (use #AskGabby) or email me at

Gabby – I’m embarrassed to say but I don’t really get why a credit union is better than a bank. Can you shed some light?

When it comes to being treated like my time and money are worth something, I am in the know.  And I’ll admit it: sometimes I indulge in feeling a little smug when I hear people complaining about the way their bank treats them or the high rates they are paying, because I already figured out that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Being a member of a credit union is pretty cool.  It’s like having a good bank but oh-so-much better because it’s not a bank.  In some ways it’s kind of like being part of a big family, except without the awkwardness of trying to turn down Aunt Ethel’s  “holiday surprise” casserole, if you know what I mean.

Did you know that credit unions are not-for-profit institutions?  That means unlike a bank (which is all about making itself richer), credit unions don’t exist to make money off of the people who use their services — they exist so that everybody can have access to sound financial services and advice.

At a credit union, your deposits are called “shares” because they represent ownership in the institution (kind of like “shares” of stocks).  That’s right: you are an owner.  It’s why credit unions talk about members instead of customers, because with a credit union you are more than just an account number.

And did you know that a credit union is considered a cooperative?  Not like a 1960’s hippie co-op, more like a really awesome farmer’s market but for financial services.

Like all credit unions, FTWCCU follows and supports these 7 cooperative principles*:

Voluntary Membership.  Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that offer services to people willing to accept the responsibilities and benefits of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.  Fort Worth Community Credit Union serves persons who live, work or attend school in Tarrant, Parker, Johnson, and Denton counties.  Have a friend who deserves to be in the know, just like us?  They can check out to learn more.

Democratic Member Control.  Every credit union member has a vote, with equal opportunity for participation in setting policies and making decisions.  Sure, there’s a day-to-day management structure (picture the chaos if there wasn’t!) but the Board of Directors is made up of and elected by members. Do you hear that?  You have a say in what happens!  Talk to FTWCCU to find out how you can get involved.

Members’ Economic Participation.  Basically, a credit union gets money from some members and then loans the money out to other members.  Because members are owners, they contribute to and benefit from the capital of the cooperative based on the volume of their usage.  This means you get better rates, fees, and service that you would typically get at a bank.

Autonomy and Independence. Credit unions are autonomous organizations where members have a say in things.  They aren’t part of some big, far-off conglomerate that tells them what to do and how to do it; they are local institutions that understand the community.  Unlike a bank, FTWCCU doesn’t answer to some big board of outsiders — they answer to me.  And you! (And all the other members, of course.)

Education, Training, and Information.  Credit unions are committed to providing financial education and training for members and employees for the betterment of the whole cooperative.  Got a question?  Check out FTWCCU’s information center:

Cooperation Among Cooperatives.  As cooperative organizations, credit unions look for opportunities to partner with other cooperatives to better serve members.   Like I always said in school: cooperate to graduate, sister!  Working together for the common good is always worthwhile.

Concern For Community.  In addition to focusing on member needs, credit unions are committed to the sustainable development of their local communities.  A lot of credit unions participate fundraising for local organizations or sponsor events that help improve their local community.  What’s funny is they don’t like to brag about it or pat themselves on the back too much — they just see it as part of their mission to be a good partner in the communities they serve.  And I think that’s just plain classy.

Who knew being part of a credit union involved this much good stuff?  Most of the time I’m just happy knowing I get good rates and better service than my big-bank friends.  But knowing more about what makes credit unions different and finding more ways to take advantage of that difference?  Now that’s getting my worth on!

*the Credit Union National Association Cooperative Alliances Committee