Credit Unions vs. Banks: Where Should College Students Look to Put Their Money?

By Thomas Ehlers

Logan Brooks is a fourth-year financial planning student at the University of Georgia. He is a customer of a small bank in his rural Georgia town, but with job opportunities across the South, he contemplates if moving his money to a larger entity would help with accessing his accounts after graduation.

“I’ve been banking there ever since I was 18,” Brooks said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, maybe changing banks, just because I’ve been getting older and might be moving around a good bit.” 

Ashley Natili is in her fourth year in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. She and her husband, Andrew, faced a similar question once they married: Where do we put our money? After discussing options with coworkers, the pair decided on Delta Community Credit Union, where they have been members for 13 years.

“I was looking for a place that didn’t have monthly fees,” Natili said. “And we’ve been happy with it ever since.” 

Ken Chrzanowski is a senior business development officer for Georgia United Credit Union. He said credit unions are member-owned and are non-profit entities that provide services like checking and savings accounts, loans and mortgages.

Chrzanowski said credit unions first appeared to serve the needs of employees of specific companies and organizations. Georgia United, for example, opened in 1958 to serve the Dekalb Teachers Union before opening to the public when regulations eased to allow for broader membership. 

According to statistics from the League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates, 97 of the nation’s 5,271 credit unions are in Georgia. Across the country, 124 million members have placed $1.8 trillion in assets into credit union accounts.

Phil Bettendorf, the senior vice president at Synovus Bank in Athens, Georgia, said banks are financial service companies that are for-profit, looking to benefit customers and provide returns for their investors. Synovus, abbreviated SNV on the New York Stock Exchange, is a publicly traded company.

According to statistics from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, there are 4,839 FDIC-insured banks across the country and another 3,122 FDIC-supervised institutions totaling nearly $24 trillion dollars in assets.

Bettendorf said banks offer more expansive services, including commercial, business and consumer business loans. Bettendorf also said banks are often more accessible, with ATMs and branches in more expansive areas. 

Chrzanowski said credit unions are often able to save 1%-6% on the total cost of a car loan since credit unions are nonprofits. He said closing costs on mortgages are often cheaper because credit unions use their nonprofit status to reduce some fees. 

Chrzanowski also said many credit unions accounts are free, and there are no monthly service charges. According to the Synovus website, there are several free checking account options, but they require a monthly service charge or account minimum.

Chrzanowski and Bettendorf both said COVID-19 pandemic helped facilitate the advancement of online money services. On top of credit and debit cards, banks and credit unions have options like online banking and depositing, allowing individuals to cash checks or move funds from their mobile phones or computers.

“We learned that we can do everything through technology,” Chrzanowski said. “There’s a contraction going on. There doesn’t need to be a branch of a financial service on every corner.”

Wherever Brooks ends up working after he gets his diploma, he will keep his money at an institution with ample access.

“You want to be able to access that money when you can, or if you have cash, you want to deposit it when you can,” Brooks said. 

Thomas Ehlers is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.

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