Differences from other financial institutions
Credit unions differ from banks and other financial institutions in that those who have accounts in the credit union are its members and owners, and they elect their board of directors in a one-person-one-vote system regardless of their amount invested. Credit unions see themselves as different from mainstream banks, with a mission to be “community-oriented” and “serve people, not profit”.
Credit unions offer many of the same financial services as banks, but often using a different terminology; common services include share accounts (savings accounts), share draft accounts (checking accounts), credit cards, share term certificates (certificates of deposit), and online banking. Normally, only a member of a credit union may deposit or borrow money. Surveys of customers at banks and credit unions have consistently shown a significantly higher customer satisfaction rate with the quality of service at credit unions. Credit unions have historically claimed to provide superior member service and to be committed to helping members improve their financial situation. In the context of financial inclusion credit unions claim to provide a broader range of loan and savings products at a much cheaper cost to their members than do most microfinance institutions.
In the credit union context, “not-for-profit” must be distinguished from a charity. Credit unions are “not-for-profit” because their purpose is to serve their members rather than to maximize profits, so, unlike charities and the like, credit unions do not rely on donations, and are financial institutions that must make what is, in economic terms, a small profit (i.e., in non-profit accounting terms, a “surplus”) to remain in existence. According to the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), a credit union’s revenues (from loans and investments) must exceed its operating expenses and dividends (interest paid on deposits) in order to maintain capital and solvency.
In the United States, credit unions incorporated and operating under a state credit union law are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(14)(A). Federal credit unions organized and operated in accordance with the Federal Credit Union Act are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(1).