Credit unions are cooperative financial institutions, formed by groups of people with a common bond. These groups of people pool their funds to form the institution’s deposit base; the group owns and controls the institution together. Membership in a credit union is not open to the general public, but is restricted to people who share the common bond of the group that created the credit union. Examples of this common bond are working for the same employer, belonging to the same church or social group, or living in the same community. Credit unions are nonprofit institutions that seek to encourage savings and make excess funds within a community available at low cost to their members.
Credit unions accept deposits in a variety of accounts. All credit unions offer savings accounts, or time deposits; the larger institutions also offer checking and money market accounts. Credit unions’ financial powers have expanded to include almost anything a bank or savings association can do, including making home loans, issuing credit cards, and even making some commercial loans. Credit unions are exempt from federal taxation and sometimes receive subsidies, in the form of free space or supplies, from their sponsoring organizations.
Credit unions were first chartered in the U.S. in 1909, at the state level. The federal government began to charter credit unions in 1934 under the Farm Credit Association, and created the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) in 1970. States and the federal government continue to charter credit unions. All credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, which is controlled by NCUA.
Today, there are more than 12,000 credit unions. These organizations hold $257.8 billion in deposits and $289.6 billion in assets.