The first credit union in the United States was formed in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1909. As of 2002, there are over 10,000 credit unions in the United States. They control assets of nearly one-half a trillion dollars and serve about one-quarter of the population. Credit unions are members-only institutions. Individuals must join a credit union to take advantage of its services. But they cannot join just any credit union—they must first be eligible for membership. Most credit unions are organized to serve members of a particular community, group or groups of employees, or members of an organization or association. Large corporations, unions, or educational institutions are some of the groups who commonly form credit unions for their members or employees.
Federal credit unions are nonprofit, cooperative financial institutions owned and operated by their members. Credit unions are democratically controlled with members given the opportunity to vote on important issues that affect the running of the credit union. For example, the board that runs a credit union is elected by its members. Credit unions provide an alternative to banks and savings and loan associations as safe places in which to place savings and borrow at reasonable rates. Credit unions pool their members’ funds to make loans to one another.
In addition to typical credit unions that serve members and provide banking and lending services, there are a few special types of credit unions:
- Community development credit unions: The NCUA established the Office of Community Development Credit Unions in early 1994. These credit unions serve mostly low-income members in economically distressed and/or financially deprived areas. Part of their function is to educate their members in fundamental money management concepts. At the same time, they provide an economic base in order to stimulate economic development and renewal to their communities.
- Corporate credit unions: These institutions do not provide services to individuals, but they serve as a sort of credit union for credit unions. Nationwide, there are over thirty federally insured corporate credit unions; they provide investment, liquidity, and payment services for their member credit unions.