Exploring Your Options: Big Banks Vs. Credit Unions

Newschannel 6 knows you care about your money and where you put your money is an important decision. We set out to learn more about all of your banking options. Texomans have three options when choosing a financial institution, credit union, small banks and big banks.

There's been a lot of backlash recently against big banks. In September Bank of America announced plans to charge customers a $5 monthly fee, just for using their debit cards. It caused such an uproar the fee was scraped, but it wasn't long until other big banks started looking for ways to make money off customers.

"I would have gladly moved my account and shut it down in a second," said small business owner, Sandy Cadena.

She operates a daycare inside her Wichita Falls home. She's been a small business owner for
more than 30 years, moving from California to Wichita Falls and from credit union to big bank.

"When we were in Oxnard, California we banked with Point MUGU Federal Credit Union and we banked with them for years until I went full speed ahead with my small business."

Sandy was forced to look into other options. She says back then her credit union wouldn't allow her to have a business account for her daycare. She researched and relentlessly had to change banks.

"I went to several banks and because I was a small business they refused me so I went to Wells Fargo and they accepted me with open arms."

For Sandy a big bank was the best option for her and her business at the time.

"It is always incumbent on the consumer to do their homework when engaging in any business transaction, particularly one involving their finances," said financial expert Gail Cunningham.

She says finding a "perfect" financial institution depends on the individuals needs.

"A lot the bells and whistles could sound very appealing, but if they don't apply to you then it won't make much of a difference in your life."

The first is knowing the difference between a bank and a credit union. A bank is for-profit. When you make a deposit or buy a savings product you're essentially loaning money to the bank.

A credit union is not-for-profit so when you deposit money you're actually buying a share of the company. Rather than being a customer, you're part owner.

"I think we have seen a trend of more people choosing credit unions as a viable option," said Executive Vice President at Union Square Federal Credit Union, Patrick Murray.

He says he has seen more Texomans choosing credit unions over the past several years and the reasons could simply be the environment of a credit union.

"I think that friendly, personal, in-tune to the local environment are things that come to people's mind."

But you need to consider more than just the environment when deciding whether to switch from a  big bank to a local bank.

"I think a person needs to examine their needs. If you use your ATM a lot to make cash withdraws then you want to see where your financial institution ATM machines are. You want them to be convenient to you," said Cunningham.

Gail Cunningham advises people to compare banks and fees. For instance, free checking accounts can have fees. While you can't be charged for a minimum balance you can be limited on how often you can withdraw from ATM's and how many checks you write a month. And if you have a high balance checking account, and you still have a fee it's time to make that phone call.

"See if you can get that fee waved because there are other options for you," said Cunningham. "Other people would like to have your business."

That was an issue Sandy Cadena ran into.

"If I go under $3,000 there is a monthly fee that I have to pay them which I have before because in this small business that I have I cannot keep $3,000 in my checking account."

But a phone call later and it was resolved.

Each financial institution has its own benefits. Big banks often have more products to offer, with the availability of ATM's. Small banks and credit unions may offer less, but what they usually offer are lower rates. Ultimately the decision depends on the individual or family, but it takes time and research to find the best place for your money.

Cunningham says if you decide to switch financial institutions don't close your current account too fast. She recommends giving it three months to avoid any surprises or any non-sufficient fund fees. She told us about some great websites for you to check out to compare financial institutions. Click here, and here.

Crystal Hall Newschannel 6.