10/12/2012 05:09 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

Credit Unions: Still the Best Bet for Consumers

One year after the Federal Reserve's debit interchange fee cap rule was implemented and Bank of America announced (and then retracted) its ill-fated $5 fee for debit card use, the American public continues to vote with their wallets. Over 1.3 million people joined credit unions last year.

In study after study, good news about credit unions -- not-for-profit, member-owned financial institutions -- resonates. For example:

  • According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a national economic indicator of U.S. consumers' evaluations of products and services, credit unions rate 87 out of a possible 100 for customer satisfaction. This is the highest score ever reached by any of the industries assessed by ASCI.
  • Consumer Reports' Feb. 2012 issue noted that, on average, the largest credit unions have lower fees than the largest banks.
  • SNL Financial reported that credit unions easily outpace banks and thrifts for lowest average credit card rates to the tune of almost 200 basis points.

By contrast, the latest survey by Bankrate found that the average monthly fee on non-interest checking accounts at banks rose 25 percent to a record high of $5.48. Yet, the vast majority of credit unions continue to offer no-fee checking.

What are some of the other advantages of credit unions?

People before profits -- At credit unions, members are owners and have a say in how it is operated. The "profits" go to members in the form of lower fees and better rates.

Joining/switching is easy -- Membership options with credit unions are vast. You can find a credit union to join at and apply at a branch or online. Many credit unions have online forms or "switch kits" that make switching a snap. Once your credit union account is established, you can also implement your automatic bill payment options.

Convenience -- Many credit unions participate in a shared branching network which gives members access to credit union locations in all 50 states. Credit unions also offer access to tens of thousands of free ATMs nationwide, including at key 7-Eleven locations, rivaling the accessibility of the largest Wall Street banks.

Low minimum balances and low interest rates on credit cards and loans -- Bankrate reports that bank customers in the U.S. must keep an average minimum balance of $723 in checking accounts that pay no interest. Contrast that with being able to open an account for as little as $5 at some credit unions. You can compare rates between credit unions and banks at

Clearly, credit unions ARE the best option for consumers. If you haven't considered joining a credit union, what are you waiting for?