Credit Union > Bank
August 9, 2017 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Thinking of ditching Wells Fargo and consolidating all banking with a credit union. I already have a savings account at the CU - looking for some assurances that the shared services model with other credit unions works fine, as the CU is affiliated with my alma mater and is about 700 miles away. Mefites banking with a credit union that is not local - it it all really just as easy has having a bank branch nearby?
posted by COD to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much. I haven't had any real reason to get a local credit union account and have continued to use the one from a state I haven't been to for five years. Your mileage may vary if your needs are more complicated than savings or checking, but probably not by much.

Do check out the local branches and see which ones have the easiest services to use; they vary a bit in methods for stuff like making deposits in person.
posted by asperity at 6:31 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mostly! I did the "just credit union" thing for a long time and there were a few esoteric things I did not get.

1. Certified checks were a pain. I bought a house. Getting a big check for the down payment was a bit of a hassle.
2. Secure deposits. I sold a house. I got a big check. I could not use the online check deposit feature for a check that big and had to either mail it or take my chances on a not-my-credit-union situation.
3. Occasional notary services including some medallion signature crap which is easier if the local bank is "your" bank. YMMV totally on this one.
4. Changing PINs and stuff. This is easier now, but when I was doing this the one thing I totally 100% could not do was change my PIN without going to a branch.

I switched mysetup after a while when my CU "updated" their online banking and I fell out of love with it. I now use an exclusively online bank (USAA, awesome if you're eligible) and a small local bank for stuff like getting checks, depositing my jar of change, etc.
posted by jessamyn at 6:32 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a non-local credit union and it works great. Checks over a certain amount can't be deposited via the phone app, so those get deposited through one of the big national bank's ATMs. It always feels weird to put a check into the other bank's ATM, but it works fine.

They refund all ATM charges so I can ignore those completely, and there have been no other issues that couldn't be solved with a quick phone call.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:37 AM on August 9, 2017

Adding my voice to the chorus. I do my main banking with a credit union I've been with for 20+ years. Nine years ago I relocated to the opposite coast and it still works just fine. I opened an account with a local CU and do a little bit of minor saving there to have a more local "home base", but mostly when I have need to do in-person transacting at that branch, it's through the CU network for my longtime CU.

Only thing that was a bummer for me was that my longtime CU has held my mortgage in the past, when we lived back in my old hometown. When it came time for me to refinance my house in my new hometown after my divorce, I couldn't work with them because they don't deal with houses in my current state.
posted by Sublimity at 6:55 AM on August 9, 2017

Oh yeah, the state thing! Occasionally there would be an issue with needing "a local check" for something (paying contractors usually) and while I think that's a thing of the past, it's worth assessing your situation to see if that would matter in yours.
posted by jessamyn at 7:09 AM on August 9, 2017

It's mostly not an issue. You just roll up to a credit union and tell them you bank with x and they'll pull it up on their computer and the transaction works just the same as if you were going into an actual branch of your credit union. We lived in Maine for a year (from Oregon) and retained all our accounts from Rivermark (who are fantastic!). We just went to a local cooperative branch and did all our banking there. It wasn't even a thing, unless you count the 4-5 minutes the newer tellers needed to get to the right spot on their computer.

It's best to scope this out beforehand though, because in my hood there's a really nice conveniently located CU nearby, but they just don't offer any shared services. It's obnoxious, but it's only an inconvenience.

The biggest hassle is if your card gets lost or stolen, you can't just roll up into any credit union that does shared services and get a new card issued on the spot, like you can at some Credit Unions. If we had stayed in Maine, I would have opened a checking account for local debit card things.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our credit union is several states away. The shared branch thing works fine, but the problem for us is that there aren't enough of them in convenient locations. And one of the less-inconvenient ones stopped participating in the shared branch thing (I don't know the right term for it, but they no longer would operate as a branch of our CU) so it recently got even worse. We're in Southern California, so it's not like we're in the middle of nowhere where you might expect bank branches to be sparse.

The end result is that it ends up being a huge hassle whenever we actually need to go into a branch. If you've already checked the locations (and hours!) of your shared branches and they work for you, then you probably don't need to worry about that (unless they leave the sharing arrangement like ours did).

Anyway, these days we very rarely need to physically go into a branch, so while it's a pain, it is an infrequent pain. Not enough of a pain that we've gone through the trouble of finding a local credit union to switch to. Of course, we don't use them as our main bank, so it might be worse if we did.
posted by primethyme at 7:25 AM on August 9, 2017

Sorry, one thing I forgot to mention.

For us, a key part of the "rarely need to go into a branch" thing is setting up as much stuff for direct deposit as possible. As others mentioned upthread, there is a limit on how large of a check you can deposit via the mobile app. Most of the larger checks we get are via things we can set up with direct deposit, so that saves us a trip to the branch. The few times we do need to go in, it's when we get one of those paper checks larger than the app limit.

If you're using it as your only bank this might not be an issue, but the other thing we did was set up online transfers between our credit union and our other primary bank. So if we need to move money between them, we can easily* do it all online.

* But not quickly. It takes several days for a transfer to happen, which can be annoying Writing ourselves a check and depositing it is still faster, ridiculously.
posted by primethyme at 7:31 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have USAA and also belong to another credit union with no nearby branches. I recently switched the majority of my banking over to USAA rather than my credit union because they not only didn't refund ATM fees, they charged their own when using another bank's ATM, even with the surcharge free machines. I liked everything else about my credit union, but that is one thing I'd advise checking (heh) into before you sign up with them, because those little fees can add up.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:43 AM on August 9, 2017

In in DC, my CU is across the country in Seattle, and for the most part it's fine. I've lived in DC for 6 years.

It's convenient to join a credit union that's a part of the Co-op network--that allows you to use branch services and surcharge-free ATMs from other network-member CUs. The only caveat I'd offer is that their ATM locator has given me several false positives: particularly in DC, a lot of these branches and ATMs are for various federal employee credit unions, and non-members aren't allowed access to their services or physical locations.
posted by duffell at 8:03 AM on August 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might also be able to simply open accounts with the local credit union, rather than the alma mater credit union 700 miles away. Unless you specifically want the alma mater credit union, it's worth asking the local one for its eligibility requirements.

I bank with a credit union for a university I did not attend. I was eligible because I live within a certain distance of their branch locations.
posted by ejbenjamin at 10:44 AM on August 9, 2017

I have two things to write about this. First, before you switch, make sure the two credit unions both are part of the "Shared Branching" network that most of them belong to. You can deposit, withdraw ($500/day) and make other transactions for free at any share member branch. There is no Boeing Credit Union in my small college town, but not a problem-- I do everything at the Washington State Employees Credit Union for no charge. The second is one that several other people have hinted at as well-- Online bank USAA has all the good parts of a credit union tied to a fantastic traditional bank and insurance company. It is worth it to look back in your family history and find a person who served in the military to establish your eligibility to join. I used to be Credit Union all the way, but honestly USAA is getting most of my banking today.
posted by seasparrow at 11:35 AM on August 9, 2017

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