Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperative associations that offer a variety of personal financial services exclusively for their members. People who join a credit union do so because of a “common bond” such as a place of employment, organization, or church group.
The origin of credit unions dates back to mid- 19th century Europe. At that time, a group of local farmers pooled their resources to purchase supplies at a lower cost. They also agreed to place their excess earnings, during periods of good harvest, in a common account. In return, participants could borrow from the common account at lower interest rates during periods of poor harvest. This was the birth of the concept, “People Helping People”.
In the early 1900’s, the credit union concept of “People Helping People” was introduced to the United States by Edward Filene, a Boston merchant. The first U.S. credit union, St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association, was established in 1909 in New Hampshire and is still in operation. Today there are over 7,900 federally insured credit unions in the U.S. serving the financial needs of over 90 million members.
Unlike other types of financial institutions that must generate a profit to satisfy stockholders, credit unions are member-owned, not-for-profit, financial cooperative organizations, dedicated to serving their members financial needs as efficiently as possible. Therefore, excess earnings are returned to the member primarily in the form of competitive dividend rates on savings and investment accounts, competitive interest rates on loans, and the constant addition of new products and services.