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How to Choose a Financial Institution

There is a lot to consider when it comes to selecting a financial institution. You may be surprised at the choices you have. Answer these nine questions—it can put money back in your wallet.

  1. Is your money safe?
    Federally insured credit unions offer a safe place for you to save your money, with deposits insured by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the independent agency that administers the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). Like the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund, the NCUSIF is a federal insurance fund backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. For more information regarding how your shares are insured, the NCUA Office of Consumer Protection provides the publication NCUA Your Insured Funds. To see how this insurance coverage applies to your situation, check out the NCUA Share Insurance Estimator.
  2. Is the financial institution managed responsibly?
    Request and review the latest annual report by the financial institutions you are considering. Talk with their representatives if you have specific questions about it. If possible, attend the financial institution's annual meeting to learn how finances are managed and what their short—and long—term plans are. Select an institution you can trust, where they have their customers' best interests in mind.
  3. Will your needs be met?
    Be very clear on what you want from a financial institution and write them down. Personal, face-­‐to-­‐face contact? Low fees? Competitive loans? Free eBanking? Financial advice? You should research financial institutions offering those features that matter most to you. Compare fees, rates, service and the small print. Ask yourself why you should choose one over all the others.
  4. Do you want full service?
    Full service means more than just offering the basic checking or savings account. When choosing, find out about other benefits offered which may be determining factors for you—notary services, weekend hours, educational scholarships, drive—through ATMs, mobile web banking, investment and insurance services, safe deposit boxes, text message banking, webinars, community giving programs—just to name a few.
  5. Is it people over profits?
    Credit union profits are returned to its members—not stockholders—in the form of better interest rates, lower fees and refreshing personalized service. They live by the philosophy of people helping people. Banks strive to keep shareholders' happy and typically have high overheads, including large advertising budgets. Financial institutions want your business so make sure your needs are met and on your terms.
  6. Is ATM access a priority?
    Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are a time—saver only if they're convenient to where you work or shop. Avoid paying any fees to access your money. Credit unions may not appear to have as many ATM locations as a big name bank, but they actually do. The CO-OP (Fee-FREE) ATM Network, a group of more than 1,400 credit unions, provides surcharge-free ATM access at more than 29,000 locations nationwide. You can even locate ATMs via iPhone application, text messaging and GPS.
  7. Are you reading the small print?
    Be wary of advertising that offers you such products as "free checking" or "free online banking" when the small print explains that it's only free for a limited time or under certain conditions. These teasers are often meant to get you in the door where, once you open an account, the institution may impose other fees and restrictions. Remember: always read and understand the small print.
  8. How do you want to be treated?
    Since a financial institution has your money, you should be treated by friendly, caring professionals. For some, large banks can be too large and impersonal. For others, a personal relationship with a credit union is what they desire. Bottom line is you should feel good, not frustrated, when conducting business.
  9. What would your family and co-workers say?
    Getting a good referral to a financial institution is valuable but only if you and the person referring value the same things. When asking others for advice, get specific. Is it the friendly service they love from their credit union? Is it the speed of service they value from their bank? Pick their brains and decide what's right for you.
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