I Wanna Be Like George Bailey: Why I Left the Bank and Joined a Credit Union

It's my favorite movie all year-round, but for most people, this is the season to watch It's a Wonderful Life. The movie is a holiday classic and, though some might think it saccharine, I find that it always restores my faith in my fellow man and reminds me to be better towards people. 

Protagonist George Bailey runs the Bailey Brothers' Building and Loan in fictional Bedford Falls, NY. In this scene, there has been a run on the bank and the Building & Loan customers arrive demanding to withdraw their deposits. To me, this scene is the most important in the entire movie.

During his speech, George proclaims that the crowd's money is not in the Savings & Loan. Instead, it has been invested in the homes and small businesses around the community. Members' deposits became the loans that helped to improve Bedford Falls. That is exactly how credit unions work. Members deposit their money, and it gets reinvested in the form of loans throughout the community. That includes small business loans, mortgages, and personal loans. Because credit unions form personal relationships with members, they can often even small micro loans to say, a child who wants to buy a new bicycle, or a student in need of a new laptop. I myself have taken out a few loans from my own credit union. First for credit debt consolidation, and then an auto loan when I bought my car.

Banks are for-profit businesses. Their boards of directors have one objective: to make money. They do that by investing your money where the profits are, which might include off-shore drilling, DAPL, fossil fuels, white nationalism, etc. (Remember Mr. Potter?!) Credit unions, on the other hand, are non-profit organizations that aim to help their members and community.

If you need any more convincing, here are some things you might not know about credit unions:

  • Credit Unions often offer lower fees and higher interest rates.
  • NCUA insures accounts up to $250,000 (the same amount that the FDIC insures banks for.)
  • Credit unions are owned by the members, who have voting rights to select their board of directors.
  • Credit unions reinvest in the communities they serve. 
  • Credit unions operate with a motto of "People Helping People." That should tell you a lot.
  • Many credit unions partner up, creating shared banking networks to offer better branch and ATM access for members.
  • In addition to the loans, some credit unions also offer grants and scholarships. They give to local charities, and support non-profit organizations.

Click here to find a credit union near you.

You needn't worry that transferring to a credit union is going to be a painful or difficult. Many offer "switch kits" to help streamline the process. Once you've found the credit union that you want to join, ask how they can help switch over your accounts. You might also want to check out a service called ClickSwitch, which can automate the process of moving your automatic payments and linked accounts.

So, be like George Bailey. Get your money our of the proverbial Mr. Potter's grubby little mitts, and move it from a bank into a community credit union. 



Recommended Reading: The Morality of Banking in It’s a Wonderful Life from the Atlantic