Finding the Right Bank or Credit Union: What’s Best for You?

by AJ Pettersen · 4 comments


Since they played a large part in the financial crisis, banks have come under scrutiny lately. A bailout was enacted to try to get some banks back on their feet, which rightfully angered the general public.

The truth is that most people need banks. If you don’t want to use a bank or a credit union, your options for saving and storing money are limited. My fiancée and I wanted to combine our finances last year, and we had to decide on a bank. Here’s what criteria we considered.

Physical Presence

This was an important factor in our decision, because of our traveling lifestyle. My future wife is planning on traveling with me during the baseball season next year. For this reason, we needed a bank that was available in a number of places throughout the country. Without quick access to our bank, we’d have a tough time handling our finances. This is why we picked a major bank that’s located in a number of locations where we may end up.

Though it wasn’t an option for us, if you live in one place year-round, credit unions and local banks become options. Many of them offer personalized features that bigger banks can’t match.

Account Options and Fees

This includes credit accounts, checking accounts, and savings accounts. We picked a bank that fit our needs in all of these categories, while charging the least. Our checking and savings accounts are free, and our rewards credit card carries a small fee, which can be offset using earned points. This setup allows us to build credit, and it also lets us store and spend our money freely and confidently.

Money market accounts aren’t making much in the current economy, but they’re also something to consider. Different credit cards accumulate points for different things. Some are better for flights, while others are better for cash back. It’s important to keep in mind what the most important account options are to you.

Extra Features

The online services offered from our bank are something that appealed to me, as there are a number of interactive features that allow me to track my spending. They also have a convenient online bill pay system for recurring payments. We use this to pay off our credit card at the same time each month, allowing us to accumulate credit and not have to worry about missing a payment.

What’s Best for You?

The bank or credit union you use is important. Finding something that fits the needs of you and your family can make a big difference on your finances. Some are interested in investment options through their bank, while others are attracted to a high quality environment at the physical locations. All of these factors play a part in choosing a bank.

What bank or credit union do you use? Why did you choose it?

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  • Carol says:

    I agree that credit unions are generally a better choice and many have overcome the traditional stumbling blocks to joining one. For example, the branch situation…as Bert stated above, many are now part of a “Shared Branching” system that allows members to go to over 4,000 locations throughout the country. Also the surcharge-free ATM networks are fairly extensive in many credit unions. Mine offers over 60,000 surcharge-free locations throughout the country.

  • JM @ NJFCU says:

    There really is the importance to educate people on what the benefits of credit unions are compared to what banks can offer. Many people might even be surprised to learn how credit unions can be a better option for them – one that is more fit to their needs.

  • Bert says:

    The essential difference between a bank and a credit union is the ownership status. A bank is owned by stockholders, who require a dividend payment once in a while. This money comes from the profit generated primarily by fees collected. A credit union is owned by the depositors who own an actual share in the business. There are no dividends, which allows for lower or no fees. This is by far a better solution for the majority of people needing an account. You said you chose a large bank with many branches because you travel in your job. Are you aware that, if you establish a personal relationship with your local credit union, they can refer you to another credit union where ever you might be, that will accommodate you through a correspondent relationship that all credit unions have with each other? The number of credit unions far exceeds the number of branches in any one bank, no matter how huge.

  • KM says:

    I use a local credit union. No fees, no problems, and always great customer service. The people there know my family, ask how my son is doing, and used to ask about my dad after he moved out of state. I have always been surprised to hear about other people having problems with banks.

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