6 Myths About Joining a Credit Union

join-us1You’ve probably heard that credit unions have lower fees than banks and offer better rates on loans and credit cards. But while the financial incentives for joining a credit union have been well-documented, membership isn’t growing as fast as you might think.

“A lot of people know about credit unions, but their advantages aren’t always top of mind,” says Patty Briotta, spokeswoman for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions in Washington, D.C. “Oftentimes, people don’t look into credit unions until they’re shopping for a particular product like a mortgage or a car loan, or when they move and need a new financial institution.”

Since 2004, credit union membership has grown from 83 million to almost 95 million members in 2013. That’s a good sign, Briotta says. But many consumers still hesitate to join credit unions, often for reasons that may not make much sense. Here are a few of them.

1. Am I eligible for a credit union? Unlike banks, credit unions serve a specific group or community, which means there are rules about who can join. In some cases, eligibility can be based on where you live, but oftentimes a credit union exists to serve a particular profession, college alumni or even a religious institution.

“For a lot of people, there’s still a perception that they aren’t eligible to join a credit union because they don’t meet the criteria,” Briotta says. “But that just isn’t the case because there are so many credit unions. There are probably several that most of us are eligible to join.”

Finding an eligible credit union isn’t difficult. Briotta advises consumers who are interested in joining a credit union to visit CreditUnionLookup.com. The site is free, and consumers can search for credit unions based on location, the name of the institution or a particular affiliation like a profession or employer. But consumers shouldn’t limit their search to their own status.

“In a lot of cases, you may be eligible for a credit union because of a family member’s status,” Briotta says. “So it’s important for consumers to understand that eligibility is a lot broader than they probably think.”

First Financial membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean County, NJ. Stop into any branch to get started today!

2. Credit unions have fewer locations. If you look around, you won’t see a credit union on every corner, and you certainly won’t see a credit union that has as many physical locations as the big banks but limited locations may not mean as much as you think, Briotta says.

“A lot of credit unions partner to offer a shared banking network,” she says. “That means there are more ATM locations than just the branch, and many of those locations are inside 7-Eleven stores, so getting cash is actually quite convenient, even if you’re away from your branch.”

Usually, credit union members can take advantage of a shared banking network without incurring fees, Briotta says. But they also can perform additional banking services through sister credit unions.

“It’s part of the cooperative nature of a credit union,” Briotta says. “Many credit unions will allow members of other credit unions to do their banking at their locations.”

First Financial is part of the Co-Op Surcharge Free ATM Network, where members have access to over 28,000 Surcharge Free ATMs nationwide, plus Canada!  Members have Surcharge Free access at 7-11 convenience stores and select Walgreens, Costco, Cumberland Farms, Pantry, and Publix stores within the Co-Op Network. Find your nearest ATM by clicking here.**

Banking online with First Financial is accessible anywhere Internet access is available – anytime. Our members have free 24/7 access to their accounts with our online banking and mobile app.

3. Do I really want to leave my bank? Whether you’re thinking of changing from one bank to another or making the switch to a credit union, the power of inertia can often keep you from moving.

“A new or raised fee, or a bad customer service experience is what it usually takes for a person to switch financial institutions,” says Thomas Nitzsche, a St. Louis-based spokesman for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. “Unless that happens, many of us are resistant to change.”

But Briotta says that shouldn’t be a reason for staying put if you’re unhappy.

“It’ll take a little work, but many credit unions offer free switch kits that will walk you through the transition process,” Briotta says.

4. Banks have smooth marketing. Banks spend a lot of money on slick advertising campaigns in just about every medium. In fact, the financial services industry spends tens of billions of dollars annually, and the numbers just keep rising. As it turns out, that’s money well spent.

“One reason that consumers stay with large banks rather than switching to credit unions is that we tend to fall prey to smooth marketing,” says Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management in New York City. “But if a large bank isn’t giving you the best deal, it’s worth the effort to move that money to a credit union.”

Credit unions do advertise, but according to Nitzsche, their pockets aren’t nearly as deep as banks. Primarily, that’s because credit unions are member-owned, so instead of spending money on ads, profits are rolled back into the institution to make loans cheaper.

“Local credit unions rely heavily on local community partnerships, referrals and word of mouth. Some consumers may have the perception that more advertising equals better service, which isn’t necessarily true,” Nitzsche says.

5. Banks have hefty rewards programs. Whether they’re offering airline miles, discounted hotels, cash-back rewards, or other perks, banks have made good use of loyalty programs that keep their customers focused on earning points. But if you’re focused on rewards, you’re not seeing the big picture, Nitzsche says.

“Many credit unions offer rewards on debit cards and credit cards, too,” he says. “And quite a few banks stopped offering debit cards with rewards a few years ago. Plus, many banks have discontinued offering free checking accounts.”

In some cases, Nitzsche says consumers can become so focused on rewards programs that they often miss the fact that the gains from those programs are a lot less than the fees they’re paying to their bank.

“When you sit down and do the math, the risks and losses associated with loyalty programs often surprise consumers,” he says. “The benefits of doing business with a credit union are far more advantageous to consumers in the form of better rates on loans, deposit accounts and lower fees.”

Our VISA Platinum Credit Card comes with fully loaded with great low rates and for each purchase made with your Platinum Card, you’ll earn CURewards points redeemable for travel, merchandise items, and merchant gift cards! 

We also reward our members who choose to THINK FIRST. Our Rewards First program is designed to give our members rewards that add back to their bottom line based on their combined balances. For more information, call us at 866.750.0100 or email us at info@firstffcu.com.

Unlike many other financial institutions, we also offer a Free Checking Account!***

6. Banks offer advanced technology. If you believe that credit unions may not be as cutting edge as banks with online and mobile banking, you’re probably not alone, says Terry Redding, vice president of marketing and product development at CFI Group, a research firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that studies consumer sentiment. While Redding expects credit unions to promote technology more aggressively, it’s not necessarily true that there’s a technology gap.

In fact, 2013 CFI reports indicated that credit union members were highly satisfied with their financial institutions and their banking technology. Banks scored an 86 out of 100 in online and mobile banking versus 90 out of 100 for credit unions.

“Our research shows us that the perception that credit unions are behind the curve does not hold water,” he says.

Credit unions provide a place for members to save, get loans at reasonable rates, and receive high quality service. Did you know that credit unions pass any “profits” they make directly back to their members? Credit unions are able to offer, on average, better rates and lower fees. Join a credit union today, you’ll be happy you made the switch!

Original article source by Michael Estrin of Fox Business.

*$5 in a base savings account is your membership deposit and is required to remain in your base savings account at all times to be a member in good standing. All credit unions require a membership deposit. **Non-First Financial ATM fees may apply based on your Rewards First tier.***A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the Bronze Tier. Click here to view full Rewards First program details, and here to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

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Fed Up With Your Bank? Consider a Credit Union

6fe47_big-bank.topLast year, credit union membership grew by 2 million people and credit union deposits topped $1 trillion for the first time ever, according to the Credit Union National Association. This was after banks got a bad rap during the financial crisis for their part in risky mortgage lending and for fees that many consumers view as unnecessarily greedy…

Think of credit unions as not-for-profit banks. That’s what they are, although they are not allowed to call themselves by that name. Do they have something to do with credit cards? Only partially. Or unions? No. Are they private clubs that few people can join? No again.

Today anybody can join a credit union. There’s always a way, and yet many people don’t realize that. True, in the old days, you could only join a credit union if your employer offered one. That’s still a great way in, but there are plenty of other ways to join. For example, one credit union runs a charitable foundation in its community and if you donate $25 to the foundation you are eligible to join the credit union. To become a member of First Financial, you must live, work, worship, volunteer, or attend school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties, New Jersey, as well as keep at least $5 in a base savings account with the credit union.*

Why would you want to? Since credit unions are not-for-profit, they can often afford to offer their members lower rates on loans. They are also more flexible in listening to members’ stories rather than just looking at their credit scores. So if you have imperfect credit, but there’s an understandable reason for it, such as an illness in the family, or a recession-related job loss, tell your story and you may still get approved for a loan at a credit union.

What size savings might you find? Here’s one example. After researching interest rates online for a $25,000 car loan, some banks were charging as much as 11.22 percent. The lowest rate found was at a credit union. Over the course of the loan, a lower rate of 4.25% would save you nearly $2,000!** Check out First Financial’s current loan rates to see if you can save money by refinancing or applying for one of our loans.

Go ahead, consider at least adding a credit union like First Financial to your financial strategy. Americans seem to be catching on that credit union membership is a beneficial piece of the financial puzzle.

“Every member of the credit union is an owner,” explains Issa Stephan, President and CEO of First Financial Federal Credit Union. “Money doesn’t go to a few investors, or to rally the stock price. We put what we need in capital as required by the federal government. Everything else goes back to the members through lower rates on loans, higher savings rates, updated technologies and assisting members through hard times. A lot of people lost their jobs and went through difficult times recently, and we use our resources to help our members with integrity and commitment to their long-term financial success.”

Doesn’t this make you interested in trying a credit union? If you’re not a member already, spread the word to family and friends! Call us at 866.750.0100, stop into any one of our branches, or visit us online at www.firstffcu.com to open a membership today!

*Click here to view the article source.

*$5 in a base savings account is your membership deposit and is required to remain in your base savings account at all times to be a member in good standing. All credit unions require a membership deposit. **Credit worthiness determines your APR.equal%20housing%20lender%20logo-resized-600

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5 Reasons to Shop at a Credit Union for Car Loans

car-loansWhen you’re in the market for a new or used car, you’re probably thinking about financing the vehicle. While dealerships make their own financing programs sound especially attractive, it’s always a good idea to shop around for the best auto loan rates—starting with local credit unions, like First Financial.

Mike Schenck, Senior Economist for The Credit Union National Association, says there are several reasons why you’ll be better off choosing a credit union over a commercial bank. Here are five of them:

1. You have a better chance of having your loan approved. If you have mediocre credit or have had credit problems in the past, a credit union might be “more likely to listen to your story than a commercial bank,” says Schenck. If you’re worried you might get turned down for a car loan because of your credit history, consider approaching a credit union before you talk to a lender at a commercial bank. Even though the loan application process is the same and the underwriting process is similar, the credit union may make some adjustments that a commercial bank would not. Many credit unions are more inclined to listen to its members’ needs and unique situations—sometimes adjusting terms of a loan accordingly.

2. Lower rates. A five-year term is the most common loan term for a new or used car, and rates at a credit union are typically much lower than the average rate at a competitor bank. According to the latest report from the market research firm Informa, the average rate on a new car loan of $30,000 from a commercial bank is 4.16 percent, while the average rate on a new car loan for the same amount from a credit union is 2.82 percent; that’s more than a 1.3 percent difference and equates to a difference of $215 a year, or $1,100 over the life of the loan.

3. Personalized service. Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations and work to provide members with high-quality customer service. Since operations decisions are made by a group of volunteer board members—rather than a group of stockholders—members tend to have a more personable experience at a credit union. You can openly discuss your concerns about your loan, talk about flexible repayment options and review your financial situation with a dedicated professional. This can alleviate some of the pressure of applying and securing financing for your new or used vehicle and you can be more confident that the credit union is working with your best interests in mind.

4. Educational resources readily available. Schenck explains that almost all credit union branches have a dedicated education and resource center, where members can learn more about financing options and how to make the best decisions when assessing the value of their car purchase. If you’re a first-time car buyer and apprehensive about the loan process, you can turn to a credit union for unbiased answers. “The branch can show you how to calculate the real value of your car—not just what the dealership declares as the value of the vehicle— and make a better decision about the deal,” says Schenck.

5. Non-sales approach. Unlike commercial banks, which often grant their lenders bonuses or some type of compensation for the loans they get approved, credit unions work for their members and aren’t driven to sell you anything that equates to extra money in their pocket. All profits from members end up going back to them in the form of better rates on other financial products, such as savings accounts, and more flexible loan options. If you don’t like the pressure of working with lenders from a commercial bank, consider heading to a credit union for a less sales-oriented approach—and potentially rewards in the form of better financial products and services.

First Financial’s goal is to provide the highest level of quality products and personalized services while maintaining financial integrity and stability, thus enriching the quality of our members’ lifestyles. Apply for a new or used auto loan right online – it’s quick, easy and secure! For additional questions, feel free to call us at 866.750.0100, e-mail us at info@firstffcu.com or stop in to see at any one of our branches.

Click here to view the article source.

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The Value of Banking in One Place

It’s hard to believe, but many people have not just one or two financial institutions, but as many as three or four. One is used for savings and checking, one for car loans, one for mortgages and one for investments. That’s a lot to keep track of!

bankinginoneplace-resized-600Why not just do it all in one place?

Doing all of your banking in one place not only gets rid of confusion, but also helps you stay organized and manage your money more effectively. Many credit unions, including First Financial, offer rewards programs and benefits for each additional product and service a member utilizes. Many also offer special product packages that come with built-in member benefits and discounts, such as home loan packages, youth packages and student packages.

At First Financial, members can take advantage of the Rewards First program, which is designed to give members rewards that add back to their bottom line. The higher each member’s combined balances or the more he or she uses our products and services, the greater the benefit. The full breakdown and package benefit can be viewed here or through First Financial’s website. Member benefit programs range from Basic, which includes a free financial consultation to President’s Circle, in which most fees and services including ATM fees, checking services and foreign transaction fees are waived or free of charge.

*First Financial is Federally Insured by the NCUA

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What is a Credit Union?

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Unlike banks which take the money they make and pay out their stockholders, credit unions are not-for-profit and pay out their members in the form of lower rates and personalized services. A credit union member is someone who meets the membership criteria and belongs to the credit union. See if you qualify for a First Financial Membership.

How many people can say that their bank knows them by their name and customizes services just to meet their individual needs? Probably not many.

Allow this comparison chart to help you better understand the bank vs. credit union difference:
Big Banks Credit Unions
Credit Card increases Affordable credit card rates
Credit lines cut or cut-off Loans and lines of credit for what you need, when you need it
Rising fees and rates Minimal fees and low rates
Need help? See Policy B, Section 24, Addendum 76c Need help? Call, click or come by your nearest branch for personalized service

So basically, a credit union is really like a bank, but better!
Learn about special credit union member perks. 

Think back to the first time you heard of a credit union. What was your initial thought on what it was? How has being a credit union member improved the quality of your life? If you are new to credit unions, do low rates and personalized services sound good to you?