When I was young, my parents taught me to make smart choices about money. As a child, I collected coins I found, saved my babysitting money and stretched my birthday money to make sure I got the most out of every dollar. These lessons helped me to make one of the greatest financial decisions I ever made: joining a credit union.
When I turned 15, I got my first job. I remember proudly clutching my first paycheck – that magical piece of paper that told the world I was on my way to adulthood. That day, my mom took me to the bank to set up a checking and savings account. While we waited in the lobby, I alternated between being nervous and excited. When we were finally called into the tiny cubicle, the account manager began to explain the terms of each account with a cool detachment. After a few minutes, I felt like a bobble head – nodding without really understanding what she was saying. Ten minutes later I had my brand new checkbook in my hand and a new set of worries and responsibilities on my mind.
Over the years I slowly watched my interest rate drop until I was making cents in interest each year. I called the bank and asked about options to get a better interest rate. The woman I spoke with and told me all I had to do to get a better rate was to “simply” deposit $20,000 more in my account. I was sure she was joking, so I laughed, responding, “Oh is that all?” She said, completely seriously, “Yes, it’s that simple!” That was the moment I knew I needed to look elsewhere for my banking needs.
I had heard about credit unions, but didn’t know much about them. I always assumed they were just like a bank: filled with fees, low interest rates and detached employees. I went online to my local credit union’s website and was surprised to find local discounts, contests and workshops about finances, loans and retirement, in addition to the usual banking offerings. I decided to stop into a branch to get some more information.
The first thing I noticed in the lobby of the credit union was a pot of coffee and a plate of cookies. I wondered if they were having some sort of promotion, but didn’t see any signs. I was greeted by a friendly woman named Pam and was invited to sit with her to talk. I asked her about the coffee and cookies and she said they always had them for members to enjoy. When she asked how she could help me, I told her about my disappointment with my current bank and explained I was looking for something that suited me better. I expected her to launch into an explanation of benefits of each of the accounts available, but instead, she asked me questions about myself: details about my family, my job and what I was looking for in a financial institution. She explained that they had a few different options and wanted to determine which would be the best fit for me. She gave me information and answered my questions without making me feel rushed or pressured. I felt as though I was talking to a friend instead of an account manager. After 45 minutes, I was confident I had made the right choice.
I’ve been with my credit union for 6 months and I have never been happier. Not only do I have a better interest rate, I have saved money on tickets to a local theme park and attended a workshop on saving for retirement. Most importantly, I feel understood. I know that if I have a question, I can call the credit union or stop in the branch and I will get my answer, explained in a way that I understand.
I know that if I have kids, I will follow my parents’ example and teach them the value of smart financial decisions, with one addition piece of advice: join a credit union!
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Written by: Sarah Way