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As Big Banks Curtail Service, Free Checking Available at Many Credit Unions

More than 80 percent of credit unions provide free checking, according to a Bankrate.com survey. (redspotted/Flickr)
More than 80 percent of credit unions provide free checking, according to a Bankrate.com survey. (redspotted/Flickr)
February 13, 2018

SEATTLE – While free checking may no longer be available at Bank of America and other big banks, some financial institutions still offer this service without charge. Credit unions are touting their ability to provide free financial services to their members.

Morgan Cole, a public relations specialist with Seattle-based Inspirus Credit Union, says their structure is their greatest asset. Credit unions are not-for-profit and member-owned cooperatives.

"When you're a member of a credit union, you actually have the opportunity to be on the board of directors," she says. "That's part of the structure of credit unions. And so the board of directors is elected by the membership in the credit union."

ECONorthwest research found Washington state credit unions saved members nearly $370 million through benefits such as lower loan and credit-card interest rates last year.

It also says Washingtonians saved nearly $200 a year on interest payments when financing a new car through credit unions.

People who make less than 30,000 dollars a year tend to pay three times as much in bank fees compared with other customers and less than 60 percent of these customers have a checking account, according to a Bankrate.com survey.

The website also found that 84 percent of credit unions don't charge for checking. Cole says her credit union has working-class roots. A Seattle high school teacher founded Inspirus more than 80 years ago.

"They existed to serve people in areas that were wanting to give communities and people in those communities a choice of somewhere to bank and do their financial services that they might not otherwise get through a bank," she explains.

About 3.5 million Washingtonians are members of a credit union.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA