The number of people switching from banks to credit unions has increased since the 2008 economic downturn, as evidenced by a 2011 survey by the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, which revealed that 54 percent growth in shares during Bank Transfer Day. There are several credit unions in the region, some of which cater to specific sectors of the workforce. The News-Press visited two credit unions in town, and researched several more in the region, to find out what they have to offer.
Membership in some credit unions is restricted to certain groups, however. But membership has its benefits.
“Once a member, always a member” is a slogan often heard and seen around credit unions, so if a member joins another employee group or moves out of the area, that member still “belongs,” said Dawn S. Davis, director of business development at Apple Federal Credit Union in Falls Church.
To join Apple, one must be a resident, student, worshipper, employee, or a volunteer in Fairfax or Prince William counties or in some other nearby cities. Educators in the surrounding area are eligible, too.
Democracy Federal Credit Union’s membership requirements match those at Apple, but it has a broader scope and serves all who live in the region.
To join NASA, an applicant must be an employee or retiree of NASA or a related science or space society, or be related to someone who is, said Cynthia Everhart, the Falls Church NASA branch manager.
The Navy Federal Credit Union requires an applicant or a family member to be a member of the Armed Forces, Coast Guard, Department of Defense or National Guard, says its website.
The Arlington Community Federal Credit Union has a Falls Church address, but its membership is limited to those “who live, work, worship, go to school, volunteer or consistently do business in Arlington County,” according to its website.
Northrop Grumman’s credit union is generally limited to employees, including retirees, and family members. Healthcare Systems Federal Credit Union is limited to those in the healthcare industry, including volunteers, and family members.
Many credit unions, like NASA and Apple, participate in a credit union network which enables members to access their accounts without charge and withdraw or deposit money at any of 53,000 partnering credit unions found in the U.S.
“One of the things that make us stand out is our remote service and accessibility, available at no charge,” Everhart said, calling it NASA’s “share branching.”
NASA has had a branch in Falls Church since 2009, and Everhart echoed many of the advantages of joining a credit union cited by Davis.
Apple and NASA only charge a $5 fee to open an account which goes into a savings account.
“Apple does not discriminate,” said Davis when asked if a person who looked homeless could open an account.
Apple has a healthy partnership with educators in the area and invites students to open accounts independently at age 16. (Before 16, it must be a joint account with mom or dad.) Grandparents may open accounts for grandchildren living in other states.
What does it mean to be a “federal” credit union?
Money deposited at a federal credit union is backed by the National Credit Union Administration, an independent agency of the U.S. government whose insurance protects members from the risk of credit union failure caused by insolvency or bankruptcy, much like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), also an independent federal government agency, which works to insure deposits in commercial banks and thrifts.