What is a Credit Union in Canada?

Banking Jul 17, 2024 2 min read
What is a Credit Union in Canada?

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A credit union is a provincially or federally regulated non-profit financial institution owned by its members, similar to a bank.

Like a bank, credit unions offer a range of financial products and services like chequing and savings accounts, loans, mortgages, investment options, and credit cards.

However, there are a few critical differences between credit unions and banks that you should be aware if prior to joining one. 

How Do Credit Unions Work?

Credit unions are owned and operated by their members.

Revenues generated by these institutions through regular financial activities like account fees and loan interest are issued to their members as dividends and invested back into the union.

These revenues are also used to support the needs of their communities. 

What Are the Requirements to Join a Credit Union?

Once you open an account with a credit union, you become a member and part-owner of the institution.

As a member, you can vote to elect the board of directors and input into how the organization operates.

Because of this, there are often requirements to join a credit union.

While each credit union has different requirements, most require regular information to open a bank account, like proper identification and financial history.

Most credit unions also require you to invest a nominal amount of money into the institution, usually as a share purchase program.

This purchase amount can be low, sometimes only a few dollars.

Since most credit unions are local to a particular area, many will require you to be a resident of the community where they operate. 

Advantages of Credit Unions

There are many reasons why so many Canadians choose credit unions over banks.

These reasons include:

  • Loans and credit cards with lower interest rates
  • Earning higher interest rates on chequing and savings account deposits
  • Lower account fees and transparency into where your bank fees are going
  • Contributing to the needs of your local community

Disadvantages of Credit Unions

While there are many great things about credit unions, there are also reasons why many choose to stay with traditional banks.

These include:

  • Fewer product and service offerings in terms of credit cards, mortgages, loans, account types
  • Membership is mandatory
  • Fewer branch locations

Did You Know?

Over 5.8 million Canadians choose a credit union for their everyday banking over traditional banks?

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the purpose of a credit union?

The purpose of a credit union is to provide a financial institution that is co-operatively owned and operated, giving members a say in the way the organization is run, and transparency into how revenues are used to build the union and support the community. Credit unions support members by offering similar financial products and services to banks at lower costs. Credit unions are also created to support the communities they operate in, focusing on social development and charitable contributions.

What is a credit union member?

A credit union member is any person who invests in that credit union and purchases financial products or services offered by the institution. Much like anyone who uses a specific bank becomes a bank customer, any person who uses the products and services offered by a credit union becomes a credit union member. Credit unions are owned and operated by their members, who are responsible for electing the institution’s board of directors and are given insight into how the revenues are collected through loan interest, banking fees and more.

What are the top credit unions in Canada?

According to the Canadian Credit Union Association, the largest 10 Canadian credit unions are:
  • Vancity
  • Meridian Credit Union
  • Coast Capital Savings Federal Credit Union
  • Servus Credit Union
  • First West Credit
  • Desjardins Ontario Credit Union
  • Steinback Credit Union
  • Prospera Credit Union
  • Conexus Credit Union
  • Alterna Savings & Credit Union
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Samantha Kohn

Samantha Kohn

Samantha Kohn is a marketing and communications professional and writer with expertise in the financial services, financial technologies and automotive spaces.

Sam is an avid dog-lover and former international traveller, and has recently embraced the opportunity to explore more of her home province of Ontario.

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