A credit union is a non-profit financial cooperative voluntarily owned and operated by its members for its members. We exist to serve our members, not to make a profit. Earnings, therefore, are returned to our members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits and lower fees. Members are, in essence, the shareholders of the credit union and therefore have a voice in how the credit union is governed through participation in annual meetings, exercising their right to vote and volunteering to serve on a committee or board.
The primary purpose of the credit union is to provide financial services to our members by encouraging them to save money and making affordable credit available to them. By federal statue, credit unions cannot serve the general public. People qualify for membership through their employer, organizational affiliations like churches or social groups, or a community-charted credit union.
Over 82 million people are members of one in over 10,000 credit unions nation wide. Our success in the United States is largely because of the unifying interests of our members and our "people helping people" principles. Every member counts, even those of modest means, and our members are fiercely loyal because of this. We continue to look out for our members' interest and provide a level of service that is not generally available at other financial institutions. Whether it's providing a loan to help a member cover unexpected medical bills, giving financial counseling to a member whose company closed its doors, or simply offering a better deal on a used car loan, credit unions make a difference for their members and the communities they serve.
In 1935, when credit union's were helping Americans through the Great Depression, the treasurer of a Midwestern credit union said that credit unions were "Not for profit, not for charity, but for service" and that philosophy holds true today. The term "credit union movement" is used to describe this strong volunteer, philosophic and political support that credit unions have among their members and the following nine principles have become the cornerstone for this movement:
- Open and Voluntary Membership
- Democratic Control
- Service to Members
- Distribution to Members
- Building Financial Stability
- Ongoing Education
- Cooperation Among Cooperatives
- Social Responsibility
These principles are founded in the philosophy of cooperation and its central values of equality, equity and mutual self-help. They express, around the world, the principles of human development and the brotherhood of man through people working together to achieve a better life for themselves and their community.