New federal laws and regulations are changing the structure and face of the financial services industry. In this time of accelerating change, it is important to understand how credit unions are unique and they serve as a necessary and popular financial alternative for 87 million Americans.
Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives. We exist to serve our members. Unlike most other financial institutions, credit unions do not issue stock or pay dividends to outside stockholders. Instead, earnings are returned to our members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits, and lower fees.
Credit unions pay payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes, but Congress exempts credit unions from federal income taxes. The exemption was established in 1937, affirmed by statue in 1951, and reaffirmed in 1998 in H.R. 1151, the Credit Union Membership Access Act, which states: “Credit unions, unlike many other participants in the financial services market, are exempt from federal and most State taxes because credit unions are member-owned, democratically operated, not-for-profit organizations generally managed by volunteer boards of directors and because they have the specified mission of meeting the credit and savings needs of consumers, especially persons of modest means.”
Credit unions are economic democracies. Each credit union member has equal ownership and one vote- regardless of how much money is on deposit.
Each credit union is governed by a Board of Directors, which is elected by and from the credit union’s membership. Board members serve as volunteers.
By current federal statue, credit unions cannot serve the general public. Members qualify to join a credit union through their employer, organizational affiliations like churches or social groups, or through a community-chartered credit union.
Financial Education for Members
Credit unions assist members to become better educated consumers of financial services. Additionally, CUNA (Credit Union National Association) is partnering with the National Endowment for Financial Education, a not-for-profit foundation, to expand financial education among high school students. A national study shows that just 10 hours of personal finance education can positively effect students’ spending and saving habits for a lifetime.
Social Purpose: People Helping People
Credit unions exist to help people, not make a profit. Our goal is to serve all of our members, including those of modest means. Members in return are fiercely loyal and support the credit union’s mission. They know their credit union will be there for them in bad times, as well as good. The same people-first philosophy encourages the credit union, and our employees, to get involved in community activities and causes – Just ask us.