Here are some traits that make credit unions so special:
Credit unions are member-owned cooperatives. Every member (someone who deposits money) with a $5.00 share (savings) deposit owns the credit union. (A cooperative is an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of the people using its services.)
Credit unions are democratically controlled with a one member/one vote rule. Every member in good standing, regardless of the amount of deposit, has a right to attend the annual meetings, choose the Board of Directors, Credit and Supervisory Committee members, and serve in any elected position.
A world-wide system centered on the member – You’re not alone in the credit union system. There’s an entire system of support and resources available to help credit unions help their members.
Volunteerism – Members elected to the Board of Directors and committees serve without compensation, or payment of any kind.
Not for profit, not for charity, but for service – Credit unions give people a hand up, not a handout. They operate for service by giving members high quality services and programs at fair rates.
Fewer fees and service charges – Because credit unions focus on people, not profit, they are often able to give members higher rates on savings, lower rates on loans and fewer fees and service charges on the same financial services offered by other financial institutions. A bank's primary function is to earn profits for their board of directors. Because credit unions don't have to answer to a paid board of directors, they can pass on their "profits" to members in the form of lower fees and better rates on savings and loans.
Two balance sheets: one financial and one human – Credit unions are run prudently, but they aren’t operated to seek the highest possible profit. People are—and always have been—the driving force for the credit union movement.
Common goals – Despite their diversity and the cultures and people they service, credit unions all share a common goal: giving members control over their economic destiny.
Strong emphasis on education – From educating young people in the classroom to helping adults manage their money, credit unions help their members to become thrifty, smart consumers.
Safety and soundness – The National Credit Union Administration insures member accounts to $100,000.
International Operating Principles – The principles are: 1) Democratic Structure, including open and voluntary membership, democratic control, and non-discrimination; 2) Service to Members, including distribution to members and building financial stability; and 3) Social Goals, including ongoing education, cooperation among cooperatives, and social responsibility. (These principles were approved August 24, 1984, by the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) Membership Council.)