Credit Unions

There are a slew of reasons people don’t consider a credit union when it comes to money management. Ultimately, the choice is a personal one, but we’re big believers in informed decision making, so today we’re breaking down the five most common misconceptions about credit unions.

Credit unions aren't sophisticated

Credit unions aren’t sophisticated, technologically savvy, current—enter a word that implies that a credit union just isn’t quite at the level of a bank, and we’ve probably heard it before. The fact is, credit unions are all those things and more—there’s just a simple lack of awareness in the market of all the products offered. For instance, we often hear people say, “I love [enter bank here] because I can deposit checks with my phone.” Great, we love the convenience of mobile deposits, too! That’s why we also offer that service, along with many other convenient services such as checking and savings accounts, online account access, automated bill payments, automated deposits, credit cards, home loans—the list goes on and on. Modern products and services aren’t exclusive to banks, and in terms of our offerings, credit unions are sophisticated.

I can't travel with my credit union

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A lot of people assume they’re going to lose convenience if they go with (or switch to) a credit union. “How do I access my money when I’m in Chicago and there’s no Inspirus Credit Union around?” It’s a fair concern—we are a Washington-based credit union—but it’s unfounded. The mass majority of credit unions are part of the CO-OP Network, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like: a co-op for credit unions. Thanks to CO-OP, any credit union member can use any other credit union’s ATM inside the CO-OP Network surcharge-free, which makes credit unions one of the largest ATM networks in the country. With nearly 30,000 ATMs from coast to coast, that means we’re bigger and more convenient than Wells Fargo and Bank of America. And if you need to stop in to speak to someone in person, you can do so at one of the 5,000 shared branches—sounds pretty convenient to us!

And as for international travel? We’ll be honest: You can take out money anywhere there’s an ATM, but you will have to pay a small fee just like you’d pay if you were a Wells Fargo member withdrawing from a Chase ATM. If you’re currently with a bank and travel internationally, you probably know the stress of trying to find your ATM in a new city. You’ve likely gone with the convenience charge to get cash from whichever machine is closest, so depending on how disciplined (or determined) you are, it may be pretty comparable to the same fees you’d face with a big bank.

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I have to be part of a segment

When credit unions first started, they were generally specific to select employee groups, like farmers, postal employees, or police officers. Inspirus was a credit union for teachers, which meant you had to be an employee of the school district to be with us. Another local credit union, BECU, was for Boeing employees. Some credit unions still function in this way, but now, many credit unions—including Inspirus—have what’s called a community charter, which means as long as you live, work, worship, or go to school in the community, you can join. At Inspirus, you no longer have to be a teacher to join—you just have to be a resident of Washington.

They don't offer rewards programs

False! Each credit union is different, but we offer the Visa Signature credit card. That fact alone is enough to debunk the myth, but we’ll tell you more. With the Visa Signature, there’s no annual fee and every purchase you make is qualified for 2% unlimited cash back. Translation? Free money—as long as you wield your card wisely. You can use your credit card for almost everything these days—even rent—and as long as you’re paying off your credit card every month, you’re basically getting a 2% discount on it all, which is something a debit card or cash can’t offer you. Plus, a rewards card also gains you access to all sorts of other perks, like exclusive events and travel deals. Score.

It's too hard to switch

There are tons of reasons to switch from a bank to a credit union—and taken together, the reasons are well worth the slight inconvenience of transferring your funds and taking care of any recurring payments. To be frank, the biggest barrier when it comes to switching financial institutions (whether you’re going from credit union to bank, bank to credit union, or even bank to bank), is just that: the bother of transferring funds, resetting electronic billing and regular payments, linking new cards to online accounts, etc. But if you can spare a few hours to tackle these things (you could even view this as an opportunity to take inventory of recurring payments and save some money), you’ve gotten over the hard part. Phew!

In terms of the actual act of switching, it’s not difficult. Apply to be a member online (it’ll take you 10 minutes), then, once you’re approved, simply fund your first account. You can do this by transferring from another account, stopping by a branch, depositing a check, or even by punching in your debit card number online. Then, let your old financial institution know that you’d like to close your account, and either have them cut you a physical check to deposit at your new financial institution, or do an electronic transfer through online banking. From there, you can add to your membership and expand your accounts just like you would anywhere else. Easy, right?

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Inspirus Credit Union was originally founded by a teacher, for teachers, so it goes without saying that education is core to who we are. Whether you’re switching from a bank to a credit union or opening up your very first account, it’s important to study up so you can make the best decision for you. In this blog, we’re breaking down why you should consider managing your finances with a credit union—and how to make the switch.

Let’s first start by leveling the playing field. There are tons of misconceptions associated with credit unions, many of which are offered up when people talk about why they don’t—or in some cases, can’t—manage their money with a credit union. Here’s the thing: Credit unions are technologically savvy institutions that, for the most part, are no longer employer-based. Many are also part of the CO-OP Network, which means credit union members have access to 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country—that’s more than nearly every other major banking institution. Oh, and they offer credit cards with rewards programs, which means you get rewarded for your credit. Those five debunked myths put credit unions on par with a traditional bank. But the credit union’s commitment to its members (who are its owners!) and community really sets it apart.

At credit unions, members are owners

Yep. Being an owner means you get to reap the rewards. When a credit union makes a profit, part of those earnings go right back to its owners, and in this case, its owners are its members. That profit turns up in ways such as higher rates of return on savings accounts and lower rates on loans, meaning your money goes further without you having to do a thing. That also means when the credit union is having a particularly successful period (more money to give back), they can up the rates on savings accounts even higher and lower the rates on loans even more. Plus, as an equal owner, it gives you a say in electing board members, who make major decisions for the credit union.

Compare this to banks, which are owned by shareholders. When a bank does well, the money isn’t reflected to the customer in a better credit card rate or more money back—it’s paid out in a lump sum to its owners: the shareholders. Both models tend to put their owners first, but putting owners first means something very different to a credit union than it does to a bank.

At credit unions, you support local

Credit unions are the definition of buy local. Almost all credit unions have a community charter, meaning to be a member (remember, being a member means being an owner), you have to live, work, worship, or go to school in the community the credit union is based in. If you want your money to stay in your community, managing your finances with a credit union is a good way to help that happen.

At credit unions, you give back

At Inspirus, we believe in the power of education—we’re a credit union founded on a mission to help one another, after all. Sometimes, that looks like educating our members to be better stewards of their money. Other times, it looks like giving back to education every Friday by fully funding one teacher’s project (or more!) through DonorsChoose.org. Our organizational model and mission ensures we remain committed to our community of members; our passion for helping others through education ensures we give back to our community of schools to better the next generation.

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So, how do I switch?

To start, visit a branch, give us a call (888-628-4010), or apply to be a member online (it’ll take you 10-15 minutes). Once you’re approved, all you have to do is fund your first account. There are a few ways to do this: transfer from another account, stop by a branch, deposit a check, or punch in your debit card number online.

From there, let your old financial institution know that you’d like to shut down your account. They’ll write you a check to deposit at your new credit union or initiate an electronic transfer through online banking. In all honesty, this is the most inconvenient part of the process: transferring your funds and taking care of any recurring payments or linked cards. But if you can invest a few hours to do this up front (you can even consider this an opportunity to take inventory of any forgotten payments and cut some spending), you’ll quickly see a return on that investment.

From there, you can grow just like you’d grow anywhere else—add savings accounts, get a rewards credit card, withdraw cash from CO-OP Network ATMs across the country, and so forth.

And, of course, if you need any help along the way, raise your hand and ask us for help—serving our member-owners is our priority.