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October 9, 2013

Joining a credit union simpler than you might think

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

It’s a day that sits between Columbus Day and Halloween on the calendar. But local credit unions agree that International Credit Union Day, which falls this year on Oct. 17, offers plenty to celebrate.

Credit unions, unlike banks, are nonprofit groups that are run by a board of volunteers. As a result, their leadership tends to be more local than many major banking companies. Customers who join the credit union are also part owners.

According to advocates like Mona Shand from the Michigan Credit Union League, it is simpler to join and use a credit union than some people think.

“While not everyone in Michigan is eligible to join every credit union, there is a credit union for everyone,” she said in an email.

Shand explained that a credit union’s field of membership eligibility can be broad and may involve belonging to a company, an employee group, a school, a church or a community.

“Community-based credit unions — meaning the field of membership is based on where you live — are widely available across Michigan,” Shand said.

Michael Ameloot, executive assistant of Peoples Trust Credit Union in Southfield, said the state Legislature took action almost a decade ago to allow credit unions to liberalize their rules on how they pick their members.

“In the past, credit unions had very narrow fields,” he said. “So now (with) the field of membership, we are able to expand members based on where they live or work in an area.”

Ameloot said Peoples Trust has worked hard to make its services easier to use. Recently, it has modernized its services with regard to the opening and funding of accounts online, he said.

He explained that his credit union has offered online transactions, such as withdrawals, deposits and even loan applications.

“We are now able to do online accounts and funds, so people don’t necessarily have to come into one of our branches,” he added.

Stephanie Leahy, marketing manager of the Auburn Hills-based Cornerstone Community Financial, said her group extends membership to anyone who lives, works or worships in many Michigan communities, including those in Oakland and Macomb counties.

She said it often only takes five or 10 minutes to sign up for membership, which offers full services, including checking and savings accounts, mortgages and auto loans.

“We definitely offer all the same things that you’ll get at a big bank,” Leahy said. “We are a nonprofit, so our entire basis is that we are not trying to gouge customers to make a profit.

“Anytime that we are able to make money, we are giving it back to our membership: lower rates on auto loans, lower fees and higher rates on savings, such as CDs (certificate of deposit rates).”

For more information on Peoples Trust Credit Union in Southfield, visit www.peoplestrustcu.org or call (248) 263-4100. Learn more about the Auburn Hills-based Cornerstone Community Financial by visiting www.ccfinancial.com or by calling (248) 340-9310.

To find out more about the Michigan Credit Union League, visit www.mcul.org.

To learn more about credit unions and their fields of membership, visit www.culinkmichigan.com.